3 player board games are among our favorites. So if you’re looking for a board game for exactly 3 players, look no further: our ranking has got you covered.
Before we begin we want to share an interesting observation we made while writing this ranking: all the board games that we find the best for 3 players are engine builders in some respect.
What Are Engine Builder Board Games?
Engine builder board games are board games in which you build some kind of engine. And the engine could be anything: a corporation that colonizes Mars, a city, an Ancient civilization, anything. We call these things engines because they start up slowly and then go faster and faster.
For example, you could have a small restaurant that makes some money. You could spend that money to hire a full time cook so you could attract more customers, and make more money. And maybe you could use that money to expand your sitting area so you can serve more people, and make even more money. And maybe you can spend that money to buy some machines that automate some key processes, so you’ll make more money. And so forth and so forth, until you made a hude restaurant engine that goes *vroom vroom*.
I realize that this concept of an engine is a little abstract. So if you find it hard to imagine what an engine is, just have a look at our ranking below to see a few examples.
Why Are Engine Builders Good For 3 Players?
Engine builders very often are best played with exactly 3 players, because they always run the risk of taking way too long if multiple players build huge engines. So you don’t want to play with too many people.
But, you still want at least 3 players to make the game non-zero sum and to enable more player interaction. And 3 players is often perfect for interaction because it always allows the 2 losing players to team up against the winning player, which keeps the game in balance and exciting until the end.
With a fourth player, engine builders are usually still fun, but not more fun than with 3 players. It just doesn’t really add anything except more play time. And there’s a bigger risk that one player falls behind way before the game ends.
So exactly 3 players tends to be the best for many engine builder board games.
With that being said, let’s see our best 3 player board games ranking!
Through the Ages: a New story of Civilization is the new gold standard for civilization building board games.
Each player builds a unique civilization. The player must carefully allocate his resources, maintain a military and choose the right leaders, technologies and wonders for the right time. Every other player is doing the same and will keep an eye on weaknesses in any aspect of your civilization.
This game is fantastic. If, by any chance, you used to like Age of Empires or Stronghold as a kid, you can think of Through the Ages as a board game equivalent of those games. It’s really epic.
We like this game the most when we play it with 3 players. With only 2 is becomes a zero sum game and the power balance can’t really shift. With 4 we like the game as well but it takes a bit longer, and you lose the dynamic that the two players always try to team up against the winning player, while also trying to back stab each other. So with 3 players the game is more balanced.
So if you’re looking for a strategic board game for 3 players, this is a great pick!
Wingspan won all board game awards possible when it came out in 2019. It literally just crushed the whole board game industry.
In Wingspan you collect birds for your wildlife reservation. Each bird that you attract, grants you extra benefits, which you can use to attract more birds. There’s a 170 unique bird in Wingspan, and the player that has the most and the rarest birds at the end of the game, wins.
What’s great about Wingspan is how quick and light it is. It’s just as fun as games like Terraforming Mars, but you can knock out a game in just 40 minutes. For this reason, Wingspan is actually best played with 3 players – that way the game remains quick and light.
Terraforming Mars has an avid fan base because of its fantastical theme and its solid game mechanics. It’s also the board game that put engine builders on the map, and therefore inspired many of the other board games on this list.
In Terraforming Mars all players work together to ‘Terraform’ Mars (meaning that you make it hospitable for humans), and the game ends when Mars is fully Terraformed. Therefore, if you play with more players you’ll play fewer rounds per person before the game ends. And for this game 3 players is really the sweet spot.
With 2 players you play far more rounds and often one player already got way ahead before the game ends. But with 4 players you play far less rounds and it feels like you didn’t build a cool corporation yet when the game ends. So 3 players is by far the best player count for Terraforming Mars.
Great Western Trail is set in 19th century America. You’re a cattle herder and you deliver cattle herds to Kansas City. Of course, you want to improve and expand your business.
You watch out for the health and quality of your herd, you build outposts along the trail at strategic points, and you hire skilled craftsmen to help you out. This way you increase your earnings from each herd you deliver to Kansas City. And it’s how you win the game.
Given that Great Western Trail is an engine builder, it again just works very well with 3 players. 2 is too few and you miss out on interaction, but 4 drags out the game without providing more fun. So 3 players is exactly right.
Dominion is our favorite deck building game. We like this game so much that we wrote a lot of articles about it. You can read those if you want to get to know everything about Dominion, including which Dominion expansion we like best; for this post we’ll just tell you why we like it the best with 3 players.
First off, Dominion is an engine builder, and in some games these engines can get ridiculous. Ridiculous engines are fun, but they also take a lot of time. So to reduce Dominion play time, we like to limit our player count.
But, Dominion is much better with 3 players than with 2 player, because there are many cards that rely on having multiple opponents. For example, Pirate Ship and Thief try to steal Treasures from your opponents decks, but if you have only 2 opponents the chance that they find Treasure is far too small to make these cards worthwhile.
Viticulture lets players run their own Italian vineyard. The player that produces the best wines and sells them for the most profits, wins.
As in most engine builder games, the players start out with only a modest plot of land. It’s their job to develop this into the most successful vineyard in Italy. To do this, they must effectively use their workers, build structures around their land to increase efficiency, and planting more vines.
To be successful, players must work around the seasons. Each season requires different tasks to be accomplished, so players must be effective managers over their workforce.
Suburbia admittedly isn’t the best 3 player board game, just because it isn’t as smooth and mechanically sounds as some of the other board games in this list. But we have a weakness for it, so we’re mentioning it anyway!
I think my girlfriend and I both just really wanted to become urban planners, but we never got that chance – so now we just play Suburbia instead. And now we still get to choose where we put our residential, commercial, civic, and industrial areas, to make our city growing but also beautiful.
Another way to explain our weakness is: do you like Sim City, the pc game? Because Suburbia is the board game equivalent of that. So if you like Sim City, get Suburbia!
Oh and the sweet spot for Suburbia is 3 players, because it’s more interaction than with 2 players but less waiting time than with 4 players. It seems to work out that way with many board games in which you build something!
What's The Best 3 Player Board Game / Engine Builder?
We hope our ranking helps you pick the best 3 player board game or engine builder for you.
Did we miss a good 3 player board game you like? Let us know through our contact form, and we’re happy to incorporate it in future updates of this article.