What are the Best Abstract Games for Newbies?

What Are Abstract Games?

Go board game, Pinterest

Abstract games sound… Intimidating, complicated. In reality, they are not. Don’t let the word abstract scare you away.

Abstract games are board games where there is no theme (don’t expect War of the Rings), no narrative (don’t expect Arkham Horror), and no luck or randomness (don’t expect Can’t Stop).

So what are they?

Abstract games are neither Eurogames nor Ameritrash; neither party games nor cooperative. They are a category of their own.

Furthermore, these types of games are ancient. There is archaeological evidence of abstract games played in Ur (Mesopotamia) 3,000 years ago, as well as in ancient Egypt.

The problem with abstract games is that they have a reputation for being hard to learn or as games for intelligent people.

Pente board game. Image: YouTube

This is a misconception. Abstract games are no more difficult to learn than your typical Eurogame.

Besides, some of the most popular games in the world (and I mean the whole planet) are abstract games.

Chess, backgammon, Go, checkers… These games are classics for a reason.

They are easy to learn, have multiple strategies to victory, have geometric gameplay (as opposed to asymmetric where one player has an advantage), and yes, they are fun.

Granted, these games look deceptively simplistic, just a board and a few pieces. They are not.

So, what are the best abstract games for beginners? And why play them?

The Best Abstract Games for Newbies

Blokus image: Amazon

The following games are games I own and played or games I don’t own a copy of but played to death at my local gaming store (Red Caps Corner in Philadelphia, in case you are wondering) or with friends.

In fairness, as stated above, abstract games are not the most attractive games. Nonetheless, do not let their bare components and lack of flashy art detract you from an enjoyable experience.

Indeed, these games show us beauty is not everything.

Moreover, modern versions of these games are prettier than Shogi or Mancala.

Besides, if you want a theme, God knows there are dozens of versions of Chess, from Star Wars to Disney. But the game of chess itself does not require a theme.

The only ranking criteria for these games are easy to learn and teach, enjoyment, and deep strategy behind the simplicity. Talk about elegance.

Ingenious image: YouTube

Here are the best abstract games for newbies:

  1. Ingenious. The rare abstract game for four players is like dominoes but not quite.
  2. Yinsh. This game looks familiar–until the pieces flip and change colors.
  3. Hive. Basically, this is Chess with bugs. Also, my most played game.
  4. Blokus. Connect the pieces, but they can only touch at the corners.
  5. Santorini. The base game is fun even without the rule-breaking god powers.
  6. Azul. Colorful and strategic. Complete your tile display before your opponent does.
  7. Onitama. Small, quick, portable. The cards you play becomes your opponent’s.
  8. Tsuro. Place a tile, move your piece, and don’t fall off the board.
  9. Pente. It is like Go mixed with tic-tac-toe. But more ruthless.
  10. Indigo. Move gems on a path and collect points.

And yes, some of these games made my best gateway games list. These are beginner-friendly games perfect to convert newbies into the board gaming hobby.

Honorable Mentions

Hounded by Atlas Games

Here are a few honorable mentions that almost made the list:

  • Hounded. So cute! Still, some beginner gamers may be turned off by the kiddie art.
  • Patchwork. Sewing and knitting are not my thing but it is a good game.
  • Tzaar. Not a bad game, but not as easy to learn as Yinsh.
  • The Climbers. Looks like Jenga but it is an abstract game full of strategy.
  • Tiny Towns. Not a bad game for a beginner but not one they would want to go back to either.
By the way, players can not go wrong with the classics we all grew up with: Chess, Checkers, Connect Four, Othello, Backgammon, and Chinese Checkers.

Those abstract games of our childhood are timeless too. And yet, why not try a modern abstract board game?

Why Play Abstract Games?

Yinsh board game. Image: Amazon

Perhaps I should rephrase the question as, why play abstract games when there are games like Eldritch Horror, Stone Age, and Cash-n-Guns which are high on theme and fun?

In brief, abstract games are good for your brain.

Moreover, they are fair. Winning depends on player choice only. There are no dice, no cards drafting, no hidden information, no bluffing, and no luck.

All the pieces are present, the rules are known to everyone, and you cannot cheat.

Hive board game image, Pinterest

The only con is that a beginner would be at a big disadvantage against a seasoned player. Still, with focus and practice, this can be overcome.

Where abstract games shine is in emergent gameplay. This means no match is the same since each player will make different moves and use different tactics. The best players adapt to them.

For many gamers, abstract games are like logic puzzles to be solved. Not a bad thing. Who wants to give it a Go?

Reader, have you played any of these abstract games? Which one is your favorite?


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January 2023