What is Abstract Strategy in Board Games?

02 July 2024
Definition: A genre of game where the game mechanics take the forefront, including little or no luck, theme or story. But what does that really mean?

Noughts and crosses could be everyone’s first experience of an abstract strategy game. Of course, by adulthood most games will end in stalemate because we’ve played enough to know where to start, what to counter, and how not to get caught out by those sneaky diagonals. A fairly common feature of abstract strategy games is that they are completely repeatable. No changes happen during set-up, there is nothing random that alters how the game will play, you can learn a starting move that you always use and then build from there. 

Generally, you can see what options your opponent has and use this information and your knowledge of how they play, or how people tend to play, to formulate a plan. You can lay traps, catch them off guard, and manipulate the pieces into a victory. Good players will be thinking a few moves ahead, while still being able to alter their plan to counter an unexpected move from their rival. Moves that block and defend may be just as vital as those that attack and move forward towards your own goal. 

While tile placement games like Patchwork, MyShelfie or Azul are pretty abstract, save for themes of blankets, books and embellishing the walls of the Royal Palace of Evora, they do include luck. You can’t have a set starting move in Azul because you don’t know what tiles you will be able to draft. They’re still abstract and still strategy, but perhaps not as purely as other games.

That said, I’ve seen arguments saying that Chess isn’t really an abstract game because the pieces are Bishops and Queens trying to protect their King from capture by a rival army. Turns out maybe abstract strategy isn’t black and white at all.  

Three Abstract Strategy Games

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Perhaps the pinnacle of modern abstract games: Hive. There’s no board, the table becomes a creeping, crawling, nest of beasties. Your aim is to capture your opponent’s queen bee by completely surrounding her. Tiles are added one by one, and then everyone moves in their own way. It’s a thoughtful game of strategy and planning. There’s a loose theme of insects, but it’s minimal and serves on the whole just to make the game easier to put into words, rather than having to talk about surrounding the yellow tile and the movement properties of the blue or green tiles.

You can buy Hive on Amazon


A now classic two player game from the 1970s. One feature of abstract games is often “perfect information” which simply means everything you know, I know. Nothing is hidden. There are just two brains competing to think it out better. I’d like to include Mastermind as an abstract strategy game because whilst the set up and point of the game includes something hidden, all the information for the rest of the game is perfect. Players use their logic and strategy to make moves in the form of guesses and uncover the hidden code. 

There are many versions of Mastermind, but you can find yours on Amazon.


Picking just three examples of abstract games is almost impossible. Gigamic, the publishers of Quarto, have a modern classics range of abstract games all using delightful wooden pieces. They each ask a different logical strategic question of the players. Quarto is one of my favourites because of how it asks you to look at the world. I can feel the “abstract” happening in my brain. You place pieces on a board attempting to connect four in any direction. You can connect any one of four properties of the wooden pieces: matching height, colour, shape or hollowness. 

Buy Quarto on Amazon

Related Article: What is open drafting in board games?


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