10 Economy-Based Games That Make You Think

Photo: Agricola

Remember the days when Monopoly ruled the world of board games? For decades, it stood alone as a game that incorporated fun with lessons on business and the economy.

Board games have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, led by a new crop of games based on economics, resource trading, and business savvy. Some of the following games have become iconic in the gaming world, but there are others you may not have heard of — but you should definitely bring to your next game night.

1. Catan

Originally known as Settlers of Catan, this is game has been credited with kick-starting a new wave of board-game enthusiasm. The idea is to collect and trade resources (grains, wool, wood, ore, bricks) in order to build roads, settlements, and cities. There are multiple ways to win, and thus multiple different potential strategies as players select starting points and decide what resources to pursue. (See also: The 5 Best Board Games for Adults)

2. Ticket to Ride

A popular game for people of all ages, Ticket to Ride involves laying down railroads on predetermined routes and collecting points, while also blocking opponents from building routes of their own. Sometimes you win by having the most routes. Sometimes you win by having the longest.

This differs from many of the "resource collection" games, but still involves some business strategy. Most notably, players may find they need to "pivot" their railroad building strategy based on opponent actions and the way the board is shaping up.

3. Age of Steam

This is like Ticket to Ride on steroids. In Age of Steam, you have many challenges, chief among them to build the most powerful locomotives and largest train network. But you also must strive to transport the most profitable shipments, keep creditors at bay, and get the highest return on investment. There's also an element of city building. And there are dozens of expansion packs to this game.

4. Power Grid

In this game, you represent a company that owns a power grid, and it's your job to supply electricity to the city. You'll bid against other players for power plants and resources. A player wins when they electrify a certain numbers of cities. Power Grid has spawned countless international versions, spinoffs, and expansion packs.

5. Viticulture

Do you like wine? Then you'll enjoy Viticulture, in which players inherit Tuscan vineyards and compete for the goal of making their enterprise the most successful. You start off with a small plot of land and three workers, and then go through a process of adding employees, assigning tasks, and expanding your operation. This game is so much fun, you don't need to drink actual wine while playing (though it doesn't hurt, either).

6. Terra Mystica

The premise behind Terra Mystica is you represent people living in one of 14 factions, and you can only grow your land by competing with opponents to "terraform" nearby lands. (In other words, you work to make neighboring lands resemble yours.) Players must collect and deploy resources strategically to construct buildings and earn money. This game also employs some interesting economic concepts, such as the notion that competitors can strengthen you while also keeping you in check.

7. Gaia Project

Gaia Project came out in 2017, but it already has received very solid reviews. It's a follow-up to Terra Mystica, and similar in that involves working to make neighboring planets more like your own so that you can expand your civilization. Many gamers like Gaia Project more than Terra Mystica, because the setup board can change, thus giving you a new gameplay experience each time you play.

8. Agricola

In Agricola, you start off as a farmer. You have a house. You have a wife. You spend your time plowing fields, collecting wood, purchasing animals, and expanding your farm. The player with the most profitable farms wins.

This game won the 2008 Golden Geek Board Game of the Year award, and it's still a highly rated game more than a decade later. The designer of this game, Uwe Rosenberg, created a follow-up game called Le Havre, in which players amass fortunes buy constructing ships and buildings. (See also: 8 Amazing Board Games You Can DIY)

9. Scythe

The idea behind Scythe is to build a big economic engine and take control of "Europa." It's the 1920s in a fictional city-state known as "The Factory." Players conquer territory, gain and use resources, build a population, and deploy "mechs" to assert their influence. This is a game that's big on strategy and light on luck. A digital version of the game is due out in 2018.

10. Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization

At its core, Through the Ages is an economy-based game, but in many ways this is a game involving the construction of a whole world. There's resource collecting and management, but also selecting of leaders, the discovery and use of technology, military, culture, and science. There are hundreds of cards and a maddening array of rules, but it's become one of the most beloved games released in the last two decades.

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Guest's picture

Great list! I'd be interested in reading a list of the best video games that have financial elements as well.

Guest's picture

My wife and I frequently play boardgames; we've found them to be a relatively frugal way to spend time together. We play San Juan more than Puerto Rico, and the buy-produce-trade element is interesting from an economic point-of-view as well: how do you get your economic engine going?

Another one we like is Monopoly Deal Card Game--this game clearly teaches to bank some savings before you invest, because you may lose your investments without savings in your bank.

btw, if you're on the Geek, look me up: "didaskalos."

Guest's picture

I love board games but I have never heard of any of these. Are they hard to find? Where can you buy them?

Guest's picture

There's probably a lot of places to buy them, even though they're not well known, but my favorite place is through Funagain.com. If you are used to playing a lot of board games, you can start with Agricola (it's pretty complicated). But if this is a start for you, you should begin with Puerto Rico.
With that being said, if you're experience is limited to games like Monopoly, Risk, etc., then I highly recommend getting "Settlers of Catan". It's probably the best "resources strategy" game, everyone loves it, the rules are simple but the strategy is very exciting. Of the games listed in the article, I'd start with Puerto Rico, then Agricola, then any others (PowerGrid is not really the same type of game, so save it for last).

Lynn Truong's picture

Hey Xin,

Which game would you recommend most for two players? My husband and I love Settlers of Catan (it wouldn't fall under your list, since it does include an element of luck -- dice), but it's no fun with just two people.


Guest's picture

Hi Lynn,
We love Settlers too, and found it a bit boring for 2 players. Carcassonne is a great game which is excellent for 2 players. It's not really "economics" like this game, but it is highly strategic.

Guest's picture

Great Post! I am also an avid fan of Eurogames and own and have played everything you mentioned many times with Agricola being my current favorite. If you are looking for more economic board games, I would recommend several of the train games such as Age of Steam or its derivatives, any 18XX game (long and can be very difficult), or even things like Chicago Express. You could also try games such as Indonesia, Scepter of Zavandor, or Brass. If you ever have any questions about Eurogames, feel free to contact me on BGG, my alias is Sailsa. Happy gaming!

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Hi Lynn,


I think La Havre and Agricola are good for two players since they are fun to play with just one player.  Puerto Rico you need at least 3 and Caylus is definitely more fun with least 3.  Power Grid is a bit too easy with 2 players because the auction element is no fun with just 2 bidders. 

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Hi Mrs. Casanova, I posted Amazon links to the games on this post.  Some of them are actually quite cheap on Amazon.  For example, Puerto Rico is $30 with free super saver now.

Guest's picture

Of these five, Agricola is probably the best for two players. Be aware, though, that it's got a fairly steep learning curve. Be willing to give it a few chances - don't give up after one shot at it.

Lynn Truong's picture

Thanks, Trent. I'm a little surprised at the $50 price tag, but I can't pass up a good board game. =)


Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Agricola has a lot of pieces, and if you think about it it is actually cheaper than a new video game.  There  are quite a few decent board game stores in the LA area that my husband used to frequent.  This is one that he went to a lot during college:  http://www.gameempirepasadena.com/.  Right now he uses cardhaus.com a lot, but shipping + tax could add up. 

Another cool place to browse in the LA area is Frank and Sons:  http://www.fs-collectibles.com/ .  They don't have a huge amount of board game dealers, but we have gotten a good deal on Battlestar Galactica the boardgame there. 

In the Bay Area we mostly go to Gator Games in San Mateo when they have 20% off sales, but even then Power Grid ended up being $38 because of high sales taxes. Power Grid is actually cheaper on Amazon right now.   Gator Games is a really cool little local shop, though, and the person in charge of their inventory  definitely has good taste in board games.   The hubby also has a 20% off discount at DJ Hobby in San Jose because he works for a game company and that's one of their work benefits. 

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Carcasonne is a tile placement game .  It is a lot of fun and extremely easy to learn .  Alhambra is also similar to Carcasonne.

Guest's picture

Lynn--What's great about Agricola is that it plays different as a 2-player game than when you play with 4, so it's very versatile. You may really enjoy it as a couple but it will still serve you well if you have other board gamers over.

I used to balk at paying $50 a board game, too, but now that we've been collecting for almost 20 years and we're STILL playing some of them (like Settlers) with new friends, the cost vs. value ratio is fantastic. We also trade used games via BoardGameGeek and with local friends as a way to save money on this hobby.

Guest's picture

I vote for "Acquire" (the plastic version is better) and a bean trading game called "Bonanza", yes our board games cost more than all our furniture, but we make good use of it and it makes a good (cheap) night with friends.

Guest's picture

For those new to Eurogames, a lot of these games can be had on Amazon, but I also always check http://www.boardgameprices.com

My favorite on your list is "Power Grid" -- I like the supply/demand mechanism. I also hear "Container" is a very good (some say best) economic game, but I've yet to play it.

Guest's picture

One of my favorite games is "Medici." It's a bidding game that plays strongly upon supply and demand.

Guest's picture

A couple of other fun two-player games that my wife and I really enjoy are "Lost Cities" and "Set" - they're shorter/simpler, but a lot of fun!

Guest's picture

Agricola has been my favorite game since when it was first released in Germany. I spent about 6 hours putting together translations in to card sleeves so I could play it a year before it was released in English. It is definitely complex, but amazingly enjoyable and has a very high replay value. Try before you buy unless you are really sure, just to be safe.

Guest's picture

Just follow this link to boardgamegeek.com, they have a simple tweak for a 2-player setup, with all the game-play rules staying the same.

Guest's picture

I've just released an online adaptation of Puerto Rico called Tropic Euro. It supports the 2-player variant mentioned in the comments above and also the 2004 PR Expansion. It can be played for free at http://www.tropiceuro.com

Enjoy :)

Guest's picture

Battle Line is fun for two players and easy to pick up and play. Games are short. Games have a varying degree of luck based on what cards are dealt to each player. Close games can be very strategic. Carcassonne is fun too.