Game Shelf Staples: Abstract Games

A good abstract game can make you think and challenge you as you play. While this style of game has been around for thousands of years, the genre is more diverse than Chess and Go.

Traditionally, abstract games are not known for their theme and can feel a bit like a puzzle. What we’ve found is that this genre lends itself to inviting non-gamers to the table, and can even be used to break down language barriers. Today we’re going to share 3 abstract games that we feel belong on everyone’s game shelf.


Publisher: Arcane Wonders
Number of players: 2
Play time: ~15-20 minutes
MSRP: $29
Purchase on Amazon | Full Review

Sometimes it can be tough to get the entire family around the table for a game night. Everyone should have a go to game that is made for just 2-players, and for us that game is Onitama. This 2016 release from Arcane Wonders feels like Chess without all the baggage.

On your turn you will choose a card to move one of your 5 game pieces on a 5 by 5 grid. These cards have rules on how your piece can move on the board. This means that you don’t have to have extensive knowledge about “what piece can move in what direction”. Players have to formulate a strategy based on the 5 cards that are available during the game. Once you use a card, it rotates to your left and you receive a new card that was previously used by your opponent. The goal is to capture the opponents “Master,” or place your Master pawn in the opponents’ seat of honor on their side of the board.

Onitama by Arcane Wonders

I can’t stress enough how gorgeous Onitama is. Every component is beautifully crafted and even the packaging is impressive. The Eastern inspired art comes through in every piece of the game and provides a theme that connects with the gameplay.

Onitama is a game that both kids and adults can grasp with around 3 minutes of teaching. There’s enough strategy here with 16 different movement cards that the game stays fresh. An average game lasts around 15 to 20 minutes which feels just right. Be cautious not to play with someone who struggles to make decisions.


Publisher: Calliope Games
Number of players: 2 – 8
Play time: Under 20 minutes
MSRP: $29 (usually less)
Purchase on Amazon

Our family has played Tsuro a number of times over the years. This Asian inspired game plays really well at any player count, which is a rare find. Players choose a resin token in the color of their choice and then place it on the outside edge of the board. On your turn you’ll play a tile from your hand into the 6 by 6 grid on the table. Once you place your tile, move your token along the pathway that’s created by the lines on the tile. The goal of the game is to stay on the board as long as possible. If your token comes to the edge of the board or collides with another players token, you’re out of the game.

Tsuro by Calliope Games

Tsuro is such an easy game to teach and a fantastic way to start a game night because of how quickly the game moves. We’ve played many times with a mix of kids and adults, with the kids out-witting the oldest people at the table. Every tile you lay down has a consequence, so you want to think about how future turns may play out.

Because this game doesn’t rely on language or written words, this has been a fantastic pick when getting together with families that may not speak the same language. Tsuro is a quick, fun and competitive game that is very accessible for all ages, and that’s why it’s one that we consider a game shelf staple.


Publisher: Next Moves Games
Number of players: 2 – 4
Play time: 30 – 40 minutes
MSRP: $39
Purchase on Amazon | Full Review

Even though Azul only came out in the Fall of 2017, this game has made a big impact in the board game community. Azul has already won the Golden Geek Award for “Best Family Game,” earned the Mensa Select certification this year, and is currently nominated for the Spiel des Jahres and Origins Award in the family category. Our family has only had the game for less than 2 months and already racked up more than a dozen plays.

Azul by Plan B Games

In Azul, you’re working to create a tiled mosaic on your individual player board. On your turn you’ll choose tiles from “factories” located in the middle of the table and place them on your board in 1 of 5 rows. At the end of the round, any rows that were filled up can move a tile onto the mosaic design. Scoring is based on how tiles are grouped, similar to a game like Qwirkle. There are 3 different bonuses that players can work toward that are counted at the end of the game.

While everyone is working on their own mosaic, there are plenty of opportunities to grab tiles that opponents need or force them to take negative points by planning ahead. Next Move Games has done an incredible job of creating a very tactile game with bright chunky tiles. The game takes about 5 minutes to teach but we’ve seen that friends and family get better after each play of the game. Azul may be the new hotness, but this is a game that has staying power for years to come.

Do you have a “go to” abstract game on your shelf? Post it below and help others find a new addition for their collection.