Area control, also known as area majority or area influence, is one of the oldest and most popular board game mechanics.
At it’s core, the mechanic revolves around a map or a set of locations.
The player’s basic agenda is to have the most soldiers, workers, cubes, etc. in that location. If you do this, you gain control of that area and therefore, you reap the rewards.
Most people, gamers and non-gamers alike, know of the area control mechanic due to a very mainstream example (ever heard of a little game called Risk?). Risk is one of the first area control games and it is one of the highest grossing games of all time, behind only Chess, Stratego, and Monopoly. Obviously, Risk is a bit dated since its original 1959 release, but the main mechanic of the game still holds up and has been expanded upon to great success.
Bits and pieces of this mechanic crop into a lot of different genres, but it seems very frequently found in games involving confrontation, just look at our exemplary game, Risk, which is about conquering the world.
The main genres that seem to use this mechanic frequently are war games, 4X games, and games that are referred to as “dudes on a map”.
1. 4X Games (like Twilight Imperium)
4x stands for explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. These games are perfectly primed for the use of area control: expansion of your army to surrounding territories (✅), the exploitation of your opponent’s weak spots (✅), and the use of your majority influence on an area to exterminate your opponents army (✅). Some of these are considered as the top area control games, depending on who you ask.
Examples of 4x board games:
2. “Dudes on a Map” Games (like Kemet)
As the nickname suggests, this genre refers to games that have players placing warriors (dudes) on a map. These warriors are competing for area control for a set number of rounds or until a certain criteria is met. These games tend to focus on asymmetric factions, beautiful miniatures, the hiring of fantastical beasts that roam around wreaking havoc on your behalf, and strategic battling with luck-mitigating card play.
- Blood Rage
- Lords of Hellas
3. War Games (like Twilight Struggle)
There is a tremendous amount of separation between war gamers and board gamers and this is likely due to board gamers rarely giving war games a chance due to their historical and dry looking nature, but it would be shameful to talk about area control without mentioning war games.
In war games, you are typically simulating a historic battle or war with each player controlling a side that was involved. Players are vying for control over critical locations involved during the associated battle or war. Area control is such a seamlessly used mechanic in war games, because just like in the real-life counterpart of those simulations, gaining control of a key location gives you a strategic edge against your opponent for the rest of the war.
Examples of war board games:
- Twilight Struggle
- 1775: Rebellion
- A Few Acres of Snow