In the digital age, we are all trying to find new ways to connect with family and friends away from our phone screens. Old hobbies like Dungeons & Dragons and board games have seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to this. More and more cardboard game companies are being created every day and making tons of creative, wonderful games. As you can imagine for a site called Little Astronomy, our favorites are the ones built around the theme of space.
There are so many space board games now that it is hard to tell the good ones from the bad ones. It is a good problem to have though. To solve it, so we took the difficult task of playing, testing and analyzing more than 30 different ones to come up with a list of the absolute best. We have narrowed it down to a list of 7 winners.
In a hurry? Here’s our best pick:
Best Space Board Game: Space Hulk
Space Hulk is the ultimate board game for astronomy and sci-fi nerds. We had a hard time deciding if we should give the first place to a game that is currently out of print, but we just have to. It is that good.
Space Hulk is a two-player game set in the universe of Warhammer 40k. One player takes on the role of the Terminators (your classic space marine) and the opponent takes the Genestealers (the alien baddies).
The game comes with incredibly detailed miniature figurines for each of the races which really helps with the immersion. The figures come unpainted out of the box, but that’s not the company being cheap or lazy, the miniature enthusiasts wouldn’t have it any other way. Part of the fun for the Space Hulk enthusiasts is customizing your figures and painting them. There is even a whole market of artists online dedicated to offering professional paint jobs for this and other Warhammer 40k figurines.
It can be a bit hard to describe how a game of Space Hulk plays out as every game is different. It comes with many scenarios that will change the way you arrange the connecting tiles that serve as a board. Every scenario will give each of the players a different objective to complete in order to win the game.
There are a few basic movement, attack, and turn rules that will persist through each campaign. Once you have learned those, any scenario is easy to start. Each of the races has their own advantages and disadvantages which change the way you play them. For example, the space marines have a timer that will limit how long their turn can take while the genestealers do not have this time limitation.
Check out the following video so you can see how an advanced game can look like and what kind of action you can expect:
Space Hulk was originally launched in 1989 by Games Workshop and has gained a cult following throughout the years. It is currently in its fourth edition. You do not need to worry about the previous editions, all you need is the 2014 (fourth) edition box.
Due to its success, the game sold out quickly. It is not that hard to find a copy, but expect to pay a price above retail.
It is unknown if the game will see a new print soon or if the company is planning to release a new edition. Our advice is to just buy it if you want to play it as a new release might still be a year or more away even if it is announced soon.
There are also 3 iPad expansions that extend the game with new campaigns, rules, and additional lore.
- Deep gameplay. No two games play the same.
- Rich backstory if you want to get into all the Warhammer 40k lore (but not necessary if you simply want to play)
- Huge community
- Only two players
- Currently a bit expensive for a board game due to being out of print
How we chose the board games in this list
To get started with the review process, we went through multiple board games forums and communities like reddit. We made a list of every board game with a space theme we could find in there and ended up with 33 candidates.
We should note that games that are “space” skins of other games were disqualified from the start. Things like Star Wars Monopoly never even had a chance with this rule. Our standards had to be kept high.
The second step was to thin the list by reading online reviews and dropping the ones where the “space” theme was only used loosely. This reduced our list to 21 games. We decide to test all of them.
Making use of our circle of friends and family, we asked around and managed to get copies of about half of them. We managed to get review copies for most of the rest and purchased the remaining four out of our own pocket.
With a group of friends, the games were split randomly as one person was not going to be able to play all of them. At least two games of each game were played. Notes and surveys were taken by all the participants. The objective was to rank the following factors for each game:
- Build quality
After a few rounds, filters, and plenty of beer the seven picks you see in the article were chosen.
What makes a great space board game?
Well, first of all, let’s talk about the theme of space.
There are many games that only use the theme of space because it looks cool in the artwork or because they thought of a name containing a space-related pun.
A good space board game has to make use of the possibilities and infinite creative freedom the universe allows. Sci-fi themes like aliens, terraforming, and space battles are always welcome but not necessary. A game can be just as good if its objective is to educate.
Speed is always an important factor when it comes to board games. It can make or break a game for a person. Games that take several hours or even days to complete are enjoyed by the most hardcore fans, but it makes it hard to find gaming partners. We have found 20 minutes to 1 hour per game seems to be the sweet spot for most players to have a good time.
The complexity of the game is a factor to consider but it will mostly depend on the age of the players you want to share the game with. A parent who wants to spend some quality time with the family will choose different games than a group of friends who are really into sci-fi and videogames and enjoy a deeper type of gameplay.
There is a board game for every type of player and we have tried to reflect that variety with our selection.
If small children are going to be playing the game, the size of the pieces should be a factor to consider.
With that said, it is time to get to our list.
Tiny Epic Galaxies
Epic fun in a tiny package. That’s how we would describe Tiny Epic Galaxies.
The name of this board game is not a coincidence. Tiny Epic Galaxies tries to grab the scope and grandiosity of the classic empire-building games but compresses it into a more accessible package.
Strategy games tend to have the deepest gameplay and offer the most fun when it comes to decision making. They are a true battle of the wits. The problem is, it tends to come at the expense of friendliness and simplicity. They take several hours to complete and require you to learn huge instruction manuals.
Tiny epic galaxies solves this by compressing the genre into games that will take only between 40 and 60 minutes.
The game is dice-based. You will use the included custom dice to gain resources that you can spend in building your galactic empire.
One cool innovation that I haven’t seen in any other game is the “following” mechanic. It allows players to spend the culture resource to duplicate the action taken by the player whose turn it is. That means that as the active player, you need to consider if something that you are doing to benefit you can help more the other players if they follow you.
Tiny Epic Galaxies also has an expansion pack called Beyond the Black that adds complexity and variety to the game. It is fun but we’d recommend you to play the base game a few times first before committing to buying the expansion.
While TEG is no replacement for the big strategy games, it will give you a quick fix as it borrows many elements from them. More importantly, it will be much easier to get people to play it than longer, more difficult games.
- The fun of strategy games without a long-time commitment
- Interesting gameplay
- Innovative concepts
- Finding the optimal strategies is not too hard
- Scoring cards could be clearer
Best family game.
Not every space board game has to be about conquest, strategy or requires you to think too much. Sometimes you just want to play a fun fast-paced, simple game.
This is where Astro Trash comes in. A game that requires some dexterity, fast reaction times, and not much more. It is super friendly for small children which is why we are including it on the list.
The objective is very simple. Your planet starts full of trash and you have to get rid of it faster than the other players by sending the trash pieces to them. To do this, every player rolls their dice at the same time. The dice indicates the color and type of trash the player can remove.
A game of Astro Trash lasts only about 10 to 15 minutes. 3 to 5 players can play but if you bend the direction rules a little, you can probably find a way to make it work for 2 players.
There’s not much more to say about Astro Trash. If you are looking for a game to play with the family, it is a no-brainer.
- Fun and fast-paced
- Great for children and families
- Really cheap
- Requires hand-eye coordination unlike most space-themed games
- Too simple for older players
- Winning depends too much on good luck
Roll for the Galaxy
This is the type of game for people who enjoy having tons of little objects on the table. The box includes so many dice it seems like you just ordered them wholesale.
Roll for the Galaxy is a modern version of the classic card game Race for the Galaxy. It is another empire-building game but adds on top of the original mechanics to make the games more interactive and fun. A game of RFTG will take about 45 minutes to complete.
This game can seem a bit intimidating at first. You will definitely need a few games to get the hang of it. Once you do, it is really fun so be patient.
One thing that makes any game more interesting is a mechanic of imperfect/secret information. RFTG does this by having each player use a cardboard screen behind which they will make some important decisions that will be critical for the result of the game.
The game plays in several phases during which you can explore, land on planets, and ship goods. Using your resources wisely in each of these phases will be very important. There are many strategic elements to the game but it is not too complex.
One thing we believe could really improve is the game’s iconography. The symbols are not very intuitive and will have you checking the manual again and again at least during the first few playthroughs.
To conclude, Roll for the Galaxy is a fun all-ages game that will really appeal to board game enthusiasts. It might scare the more casual players at the beginning but if you manage to convince them to stick with it, they will end up enjoying it.
There are two expansions for the game called Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition and Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry. They seem to add more depth to the game but we didn’t personally test them.
- Lots (and I mean LOTS) of dice to play with
- Fast games for a strategy game
- Great mechanics
- Instructions and iconography could be clearer
- Intimidating in the first playthrough
Clank! in! Space!
No list of the best board games would be complete without a deck builder to compete for the throne. Enter Clank! In! Space!.
In this game, you will play the role of an intergalactic thief looking to extract an artifact from a planet. The first player to extract the artifact and escape wins. But in order to do that, you will have to sneak your way through arenas, fight security robots, and overcome bosses.
Clank! In! Space! features a modular board with 6 different settings. In each game, you will be using three of them in different combinations. This means every playthrough will be different and finding an optimal strategy for the map will be a challenge.
As in every classic deck builder, you will use your turn and your resources to acquire new cards with different effects that will help you move across the board and execute your strategy. It’s a game that is easy to understand but still offers deep gameplay.
One of the most fun things about this game for sci-fi lovers is all the pop culture references you will find in the cards. No spoilers, but see if you can spot the Futurama, Back to the Future, and Ender’s Game winks.
Some readers might notice earlier in the “how we chose the list” section we mentioned we didn’t include any “space” re-skins of other games. Well, it turns out we did. At the moment of getting the game, we didn’t know it is a version of a game called Clank! that uses the same mechanics but in a fantasy setting.
We liked it so much we decided to include it anyway. From our research, Clank! In Space! might be even more popular now than the original. It even has its own expansion called Apocalypse! that adds more cards and tweaks a few of the end game mechanics.
A game of Clank! in Space! lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. Two to Four players can play it.
- Easy to understand
- Every game feels different thanks to the modular boards
- Fun art and setting
- Build quality could be better. Expect some dents in the cards and boards after a few games.
“I wouldn’t just put Terraforming Mars in the run for best space board game. I would put it in the run for best board game, period!”
That’s an exact quote from one of our not-so-expert reviewers, a.k.a my good friend Ryan. I just wanted to put it out there so you could see his enthusiasm.
In Terraforming Mars you take the role of a corporation in the year 2400. Humankind has started to colonize the red planet and your job is to lead the way in the process of making it habitable. The players (up to 5) will compete to have the most successful corporation.
You will achieve this by creating an economy, gathering resources, increasing production and earn victory points in the process. The genre is what board game experts would call an engine builder.
The gameplay in Terraforming Mars is mostly based around decision making. There’s not much luck involved which some player will welcome while others might find it reduces the number of exciting moments. The more experienced players will tend to get ahead fast if they are playing against newbies and catching up can be tough.
We would recommend this game for anyone who is into environmental mechanics and economy building.
A match of Terraforming Mars can be on the longer side of things. It will usually last 2 or 3 hours depending on the number of players.
Speaking of the number of players, the game also offers a solo mode in case you want to play by yourself which is always a welcome addition to any board game.
The only big downside for TM is the build quality. The pieces and the kind of cardboard used are just not on par with a game that is so well designed in every other area. A second print has been launched since we got our copy so hopefully, that has been fixed. Either way, we have seen other reviewers had similar issues.
The game has been so successful after its recent launch that it already has 4 expansion packs.
- Original setting
- Interesting gameplay
- Perfect for number geeks
- A bit slow if only 2 players are playing
- All the numbers can be overwhelming for casual players
- The build quality really needs to improve
Sometimes the best games come from the simplest ideas.
Galaxy Trucker is not about grand strategy, colonization or empire building. The setting is much simpler than that. You are a “space trucker” whose job is to deliver different types of cargo and packages to the most remote corners of the galaxy. You are basically space UPS.
But before you start delivering alien materials, you will need a ship and that’s where the fun in Galaxy Trucker resides. You will need to assemble your own space transport in any way you like out of a bunch of pieces.
These pieces assemble kind of like Legos and have certain rules that you must follow. For example, the engines in your ship always to be pointing back because well, otherwise you would just move in reverse.
You will also need to protect your ship from the hardships and dangers of space so make sure to add some lasers here and there in case a space battle breaks out. Just saying.
Galaxy Trucker supports 2-4 players. The game actually can have multiple winners so it is great for the crowd that doesn’t like it when games get too competitive. The usual playthrough will be about one hour long.
The game is chaotic and full of fun moments. It is phenomenal for the occasional gathering with friends but don’t expect it to be the kind of game you can break out every week. It’s just not designed to have that kind of depth.
An expansion pack is available if you want to extend the game but it is not necessary to enjoy it.
- Fun gameplay
- Creative and unique mechanics
- Great for newcomers
- Players looking for deep gameplay and decision making might not enjoy it.
- The artwork could be better
All the games we have featured above are a lot of fun. Which one you should buy will depend mostly on what type of players you and your game partners are.
If you are looking for a game for the family’s gaming night with the kids, Astro Trash and Clank! In! Space! are wonderful.
If you want deep, interesting gameplay that is going to have you thinking hard about your choices, try Terraforming Mars and Space Hulk.
Roll for the Galaxy, Galaxy Trucker, and Tiny Epic Galaxies are for everyone and your safest bets for playing with friends.