We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

The best board games like chess

There are loads of great chess alternatives - you don't have to be a grandmaster to enjoy abstract games like Hive, Quoridor, or Onitama,

Games like Chess - the board game Santorini

No game has quite the same allure, mystique, and prestige as chess, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t loads of other games out there just like it. In fact there are plenty of games like chess, abstract strategy games where two players move pieces around a board in a deadly dance.

For this guide, we’ve chosen fast-paced strategy board games that match chess’ abstract style and perfectly balanced two-player design. It’s no surprise that some of them are also among our top ten board games for couples – and we’ve previously named Hive one of the best board games ever – so these really are worth your time.

If you’re looking to master the original, our beginner’s guide on how to play chess is the place to start – but for now, let’s check out the new school.

The best games like chess

Games like Chess - the board game Hive


The best tile game like chess.

 Player count 2
 Game length 20 minutes
Complexity 2.5/5

Hive is a game that doesn’t look like chess, but looks can be deceiving. It’s an abstract tile game for two players where the objective is to entirely surround your opponent’s queen bee, while preventing your own queen from being captured.

Like chess, you have a wide variety of pieces which can move about in different ways. The unique thing about Hive, however, is that the game isn’t played on a board. Instead, you form the play arena yourself through the act of placing down tiles. Each turn you can choose to lay a new piece down, or move one of your existing pieces. However, you can’t zip off into empty space – all tiles in the Hive must constantly be touching.

This creates a unique, tactical puzzle, and also gives the impression of a swarming pile of creepy-crawlies.

Games like Chess - the board game Onitama


The best competitive game like chess.

 Player count 2
 Game length 15 minutes
Complexity 2/5

Onitama looks as though it’s a board game like chess, only smaller. But while Onitama features fewer pieces and a smaller board than chess, what adds to its complexity is the way in which those pieces can move. The game features 16 different martial art styles – from dragon to horse – on cards which determine how your pieces move about. In each game, each player gets two of these they can use with any of their pieces.

Here’s the tricky part, however: a fifth martial arts card is placed between the two players. As soon as you make a move with one of your pieces, you have to swap the card you used for the one in the center. That means your opponent will always gain access to any moves you use. This adds a delightful element of push and pull to this deceptively fiendish strategy game, as well as a brain-bending requirement to think multiple turns ahead.

Games like Chess - the board game Quoridor


The best fast-playing game like chess.

 Player count 2-4
 Game length 15 minutes
Complexity  2/5

This board game has become a bit of a craze, with a strong online following. Quoridor is like that special minigame in chess where you try and get your pawn to your opponent’s side of the board so it can become a queen.

Here’s how it works. Each player has pawns. Each player has walls. You’re trying to get to your opponent’s side and on your turn you can either move your pawn or place a wall to try and slow your enemy down. There’s a clever balance to strike as you need to make progress yourself, while finding the right time to disrupt your rival.

A clever aspect of this game is that if your pawns meet, you can jump over the other piece and gain a substantial lead. That means the other pawn becomes a crucial, moving obstacle. Quoridor is fun and intuitive to play, but it has hidden depths. The game can also be played four-player for extra chaos, but we feel it’s better with two.

Games like Chess - the board game Santorini


The most attractive game like chess.

 Player count 2-3
 Game length 15 minutes
Complexity 2/5

In the beautiful Greek-themed Santorini your playing pieces can do two things, move and then place a building tile. Your aim is to get a pawn to climb up to the third level of a building before your opponent can. It’s a simple enough concept, but it’s used here in a very satisfying 3D abstract game which will make you feel clever, and can be finished in about 15 minutes.

As well as chess, Santorini feels a bit like playing a much more strategic version of connect 4. You’re trying to place building segments that will allow your builders to scramble up to that crucial third level, while blocking your opponent and stopping them taking advantage of your placement to gain the win themselves.

If you want a bit more variety, you can add in mythology inspired Greek god cards which each have their own special powers to explore.

Games like Chess - the board game Cairn


The best chaotic game like chess.

 Player count 2
 Game length 25 minutes
Complexity  2/5

Cairn is a two-player abstract dueling game about druids that starts out relatively simple and becomes more complex over time. That’s because the objective is to build megaliths, tiles that each have different powers and abilities, which work to reshape the game.

Like Onitama, there’s an interesting balance between asymmetry and symmetry here. In Cairn, there are three different moves you can take, portrayed by three tiles. Once you take one, you flip the tile to its reverse face, which has a similar but slightly different action. The next player to use that tile must use the new action before flipping it back.

Your aim is to create megaliths by capturing pieces, but you can also win by jumping onto your opponents’ side. It’s simple and requires skill, but there’s a decent amount of chaos and randomness to the game too that gives it plenty of replayability. The game state constantly changes as tiles flip and megaliths are placed, and it gets rather intense indeed as one player nears the victory line.

Perhaps chess and games like it just aren’t for you! If so, not to worry, we’ve created guides to the best tabletop games in various other categories too – from war board games all the way to the best sex board games for 18-and-overs.

And if you’re getting serious about the tabletop hobby, you’ll need a good play surface – check out our guide to the best gaming tables for recommendations.