Joseph works as an editor in one of the magazines dedicated to video games. Here, at RecRoomPick, he’s given the opportunity to enjoy the reverse of the medal – the no less engaging world of offline games.
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Last updated: January 28, 2021
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If you’re stuck indoors and don’t know what to do, grab a board game and let the fun begin. Some people might think board games are pretty lame and old school. They’ve probably had limited experience with some. We don’t blame them. But it’s a good idea to try something new and challenging. The best engine-building board games will change your mind and turn you into a diehard board game lover.
This review makes your decision easy and hassle-free by looking at top-rated engine building games. We provide you with an in-depth review of their features. In this buying guide, we give you ideas on what to consider before you make a choice when picking a board game. These crucial factors include genre, number of players; playing time; age, and more. These factors help you pick the best engine-building board game for endless family fun.
In CATAN (formerly The Settlers of Catan), each player tries to be the dominant force on the island of Catan by building settlements, cities, and roads. The strategy is simple: collect resource cards (sheep, brick, stone, straw, and lumber) to build settlements, expand roads, and eventually build cities. You can trade resources with other players and claim your rewards. Players control their civilization and spread across a modular hex board in a competition for victory points. As you work your way through developing the land, the first player to reach ten points is the winner.
The game is easy to pick up, and the rules are straightforward. The game is suitable for three to four people over the age of ten. If you want to play with 5–6 players, the 5–6 player extension is required. Besides, you can play for as little or as long as you want. Suitable for ages over 10. You accumulate points by building settlements and cities, having the longest road and the most massive army, and gathering individual development cards that award victory points.
What we liked: The game is suitable for those who don’t want something complicated since they are simple to follow. We also loved the fact that you can play alone and still have fun.
What could be better: The progression of the games seems slow for some experienced players, but this doesn’t affect the fun.
Scythe is made with engine-building in mind. It is aesthetically beautiful and also well-thought-out in terms of game mechanics. The alternative-reality 1920s Europe makes for a lovely theme and a break from ancient civilizations or space settings common to most engine-builders. Here, you lead your faction to victory, building mechs, and exploring the mysterious factory, as you protect your territory from the mechs of other encroaching factions. This game is best for 1-5 players and plays in 90-120 minutes. Moving to The Factory in the board center with your player avatar provides additional actions to play. This makes the player more powerful.
Every step of this game requires a well thought out strategy and leaves very little room for chance. This mechanic in this game rewards the careful construction of resources, wealth, and power to win, making this an extreme engine-building game indeed. The player that has accumulated the most wealth at the game’s end is the winner. To end the game, players earn stars for achieving objectives, like winning combats or building structures. Once a player has earned six stars, the game ends.
What we liked: The art is stunning and immerses the game in an alternate reality that is both beautiful and believable. There is even a single-player mode that you can do solo.
What could be better: The instructions and rules are dense, and the game is based on skill more than luck. However, it’s worth playing, and we highly recommend it.
In a world where every other board game promises a host of intricate miniatures, monsters, and epic wars, here comes a game about bird watching. Being different, especially in board games, is a good thing.
For bird enthusiasts seeking something fun and enjoyable for the weekend, this widely lauded, award-winning title is the real deal. It carries the title for the most prestigious award in its category. The Wingspan is a competitive, medium-weight, card-driven, engine-building board game. You can play it solo, or you can invite up to four friends to join you in fun. The gameplay can last between 40 to 70 minutes.
In this game, your intention is gathering birds, and players have four rounds to do this. You have to attract the best birds to your network of wildlife preserves to win. The Player’s actions consist of creating powerful combinations of birds and habitats. Your strategic action will gain you food tokens, lay eggs, and draw from hundreds of 170 beautifully illustrated bird cards. You must plan and choose wisely when playing these unique bird cards. The winner is the player with the most points after four rounds.
What we liked: There are about one-hundred and seventy individual bird cards with unique and gorgeous artwork. The components are of high quality, and most importantly, the ruleset is solid with fun gameplay. Its ease and speed of play mean that the game is welcoming enough without leaving experienced players bored or feeling like they must hold back.
What could be better: Honestly, the engine-building mechanics are light. Either way, you really can’t go wrong by checking it out. Also, the game mechanics might force you to pick up random new cards due to a lack of options.
The game won multiple awards for a reason. Terraforming Mars is the award-winning, incredibly robust engine-building board game. It’s suitable for 1 to 5 players from the of twelve. The game board is a map of Mars, and (corporation) players accumulate resources to generate trees, oceans, and cities on the Mars board. In Terraforming Mars, you and your opponents play as different corporations to make Mars a place to live. Players compete cooperatively to raise the oxygen, temperature, and water level.
The fun comes when each is working against each other to build up the most incredible machine. The player who gains the most victory points at the end of the game becomes the winner. Additionally, by playing this game, you learn some fun facts about Mars, entertaining. If you like engine-building even a little bit, Terraforming Mars is something you should try out. It takes a few games to understand the interworking of all the mechanics and various things that you can do, but once you get there, it is very satisfying.
What we liked: Terraforming Mars is one of those cool sci-fi games that are closer to reality than fiction compared to many others. We love this game for its reality-basis.
What could be better: Terraforming Mars is a bit difficult with rules and components, but for a solid sci-fi, engine-building game, it’s hard to beat. Also, the player boards are of low quality considering the high price tag, but overall the gameplay is smooth and polished.
Everdell is one of our favorite engine building games that you can play alone with only 20 minutes per player in about 40-80 minutes. It features a streamlined worker placement game with a detailed world design and stunning artwork.
Players work to build a city of critters and constructions using a tableau-building mechanic. Everdell is easy to learn yet with a satisfying strategic depth, and you will want to play it over. In Everdell, a player is the leader of a group of critters who want to perform different tasks.
Here a player can take one of three actions. They can place a worker on one of the board locations, events, or destination cards. Workers will perform actions to develop a player’s tableau. They can also play a card to either generate resources, grant abilities, and then score points. The final action is preparing for the next season as workers are returned to the player’s supply, and new workers are added. The game is played from winter to the next winter. The player with the city with the most points at the end of the next winter wins.
What we liked: It has an adorable theme when you look at the drafting, worker placement mechanics, and engine-building elements of the game.
What could be better: Everdell has lots of actions during the game with straightforward rules. Unfortunately, the rule book feels is a bit clunky, and the rules are poorly laid out. This is not a deal-breaker, though, since it’s no longer an issue once you learn how to play.
This game is ideal for 1-5 players and plays in 90-120 minutes. With this game, you got a chance to build your civilization starting at the beginning of human-kind and into the future. You can start from nothing and advance the science, technology, exploration, and military to progress your civilization as you earn your points. The paths you choose will vary significantly from real-world events or people — your civilization is exclusive by using the 18 unique, painted landmark miniatures.
The designer of this game ensured there is a right balance between luck and skill. You will realize this since tapestry card draws are all about luck, and how one handles their civilization and approaches the development tracks is all about your skill. This makes Tapestry replayable and gives players a chance to puzzle through different strategies for each game. The player with the most points is the most advanced civilization wins the game. Besides, this game offers solo play mode in addition to accommodating couples or small groups.
What we liked: It’s easy to learn, plays in 30 minutes or less per player, and is a ton of fun. The artwork is lovely, the color scheme serene, and the components are of high quality.
What could be better: The rulebook is pretty thin compared to most, though it still conveys the necessary information in summary.
Things to Consider
It is a time to stay indoors as much as you can, drink hot toddies, watch a series or two, and, of course, play board games. But with an astounding array of ever-intensifying gaming culture, it can be hard to decide board game to choose. The last thing you want is to be stuck inside, arguing about the comparative merits of Settlers of Catan versus Everdell. Don’t know which one to pick? You’re in luck. To select the best engine-building board games, you need to understand how they work.
What are engine building board games?
Engine building board games is a category of board games where you can collect things, such as resources, making it easier for you to get other things or accomplish a goal. Most strategy games use this somehow because it is about how you lay the foundation for something long term. Without it, you would have immediate cause and effect, which is pretty limited for a game.
How to play engine building games
In an engine builder, each player typically starts with the same simple ability or abilities. Typically, you might only be doing a straightforward action on one turn, but by the end of the game, you can have different actions, all bouncing off one another. Another hallmark of an engine builder is that the game ramps up in pace. An engine-building game relies on a mechanic that allows you to build up, or increase, the power of their actions as the game continues.
The constant attention to ‘build your engine’ is crucial if you want to win. Your actions at the start of your game will be significantly different than at the end. It’s like building an economy. The engine starts small and becomes a resource generator by the end of the game. The fun comes with perfecting your engine, making it as efficient and useful as possible.
Features to consider before you buy an engine-building board game
With genres and mechanics becoming so intertwined, it can be hard to figure out what’s in a package. While a few classics have survived the test of time, the board game popularity has more and more newcomers joining the ranks. For tabletop players, that’s a win, but this gives you lots of options to sort. There are so many factors that need to come together before choosing the best building board game. Here are some of the most important factors.
With so many new gamers in the industry, imaginations run wild. You need to figure out the type of game you want to add to your inventory. Ranging from strategy, educational, legacy, technology, war games, and wargaming, etc., you need to know the kind of board game that fits your need. Most of the options in our review are strategy games, including the Terraforming Mars and Catan. These board games are a little complicated and significantly expensive than their counterparts but a lot of fun to play.
Number of players
Choosing the perfect board game mainly depends on the number of players. There are several amazing classic board games or family games where the game itself is not as crucial as playing as a group.
If you want to play as a group, you might want to check the description.
Most of the games on our list, including WingSpan, Terraforming Mars, and Tapestry, can accommodate up to 5 players with a possibility of extension. It’s also possible to play alone if you want to.
You might be searching for a long-time span game to play with friends and family. You could also be looking for a short-span fun for some quick amusement. It would help if you considered the indicated playtime on your board game.
You cannot play 2 hours’ session when you only have a 30-minute game session to play.
If you love long span gaming sessions, you might check out Scythe or Tapestry with a playtime of up to 120 minutes. The Wingspan is ideal if you want something short and exciting.
You have to consider your players’ age and their level of IQ when picking the best board game. If you ignore this, the gameplay might become either too complicated or too easy to play.
If a child plays a simple game inappropriate for their age, they end up bored.
Some choices of games are perfect for kids than adults. So, if you are planning to play with a kid, check the age specifications. Gameplay like Catan is only appropriate for players more than ten years old. Others like the Scythe and Tapestry are suitable for 14 years and older.
The theme is one of the most important aspects of a great board game. The art on the cover box of the game plays a huge role in establishing the theme. One look at the board game’s cover should convey everything you need to know. It can tell how fun that game feels. And then there are games like Scythe and Everdell that have gorgeous artwork. From the board to the cards to the color scheme, all of its art in Tapestry is as intricate as its gameplay mechanics, making it a joy to look at. The Wingspan is a perfect example of a minimalist art style with its unique personality, so much so that it stands out and begs attention.
Here you might want to consider looking at the game as a whole for its graphic design, not solely illustration/artwork.
While the artwork is an essential factor to consider, outstanding artwork on the box’s cover will not necessarily cut it.
You want something that presents a unified theme from box to components. The civilization theme is driven home in the Terraforming Mars, with the grand design of the board.
It is necessary to look for board games with addons and extensions for some added convenience. For instance, having some clear sleeves for your new cards helps reduce those ugly dog-eared edges. It also keeps spilled drinks and stains way. A solid play mat is a useful accessory for board games. It is great to have your own design game space when playing against others. The lovely plastic cases for your bits, the wooden dice, the book-style folding player boards, and the opulent dice tower are awesome addons in the Wingspan building game.
Sometimes things aren’t as simple as they seem. From the rules down to the number of pieces, the complexity of playing might be different. When learning a new engine-building board game, you have to remember where things go and where they come from. While it might take time to get the hang of it, engine-building board games are fun to play. Most of the gameplay comes with a rule book, which makes playing easier. If you have clear but briefly written rules, they will be easy to remember. You won’t have to remember too many rules or continuously check the rule book for reference.
Yes, you can play an engine-building board game alone. Solo boards are prevalent. Some board games are versatile, and you can play whether there is only yourself or have three or more other people with you. In Wingspan, you use the Automa Factory when flying solo. After each of your turns, you flip over Automa cards, resolve the effects, and then proceed with your turn. In short, the game builds its engine while you do the same. The Automa can be so aggressive that the game will feel like you are playing against other real people.
Wrapping It Up
It’s apparent that not every engine-building board is a fit for all. If you’re considering any of the board games on our list but not sure of which to choose, you might want to check out Catan, which comes top of our list. The game is easy to pick up, and the rules are straightforward yet fun to play. Our premium choice is Scythe. The art is stunning, and the game in an alternate reality that is both beautiful and believable. It is also versatile enough if you want to play alone. For the best value, we settled for Wingspan, a game ideal for bird enthusiasts. The artwork is stunning. The components are of exceptionally high quality, and it is relatively affordable. We hope this guide helps you make an informed choice when shopping for the best engine-building board games.