notes

Five board games you’ve never heard of

by james mathias / 2014 / games

Splendor

Splendor

Splendor is a gem of a game. Lu and I love it. On the surface, Splendor appears to be a simple card game. On your turn you can do one of four actions. Of those four, two will acquire you chips, and the other two gain you cards and the coveted wild chip.

Splendor plays quickly, but in a agonizing way. It’s fun, however the simplicity is a veneer that covers the hidden complexity and depth that only repeated plays start to chip away at. A game that by all accounts defines the term “filler game”, but in reality hides a complex economic game under it’s many layers.

Don’t let Splendor’s short rule book, and simple mechanisms lull you into a belief that this is a casual game. This game will have you quietly mulling over what to do from turn to turn, while carefully tracking your opponents card tableau trying to determine exactly how many turns you have left to amass the greatest fortune.

I recommend this game for any collection. Splendor is fun, small, easy to teach, hard to master, and has that certain quality of addictiveness that is oh so hard to capture in a game.


Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

I’ve read only one book in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld setting, Night Watch. It was a frustrating, but satisfying and fascinating read. I mention this, in case anyone out there thinks they need to read a library’s worth of books before being able to enjoy this game. The fact is, you don’t have to read even one.

Martin Wallace the game’s prolific designer has done such a good job bringing the world atop four elephants, atop a turtle to the, just as baffling, world of cardboard, wood and dice, that you don’t have to be up to speed to play well or “get” the game’s humor.

In Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, you take turns as secret leaders of city factions, trying to control areas of Anhk-Morpork. You do this through clever card play and placement of your minions on the city map. As the game progresses the cards get more powerful, and each player’s secret identity gets closer and closer to fulfilling the secret agenda assigned to them at the start of the game. All this builds to an explosive climax for the game.

Discworld plays pretty quickly, and is a total blast, especially if you get into the game’s theme and humor. Don’t hesitate to play this game if you get a chance.


Crows

Crows

Crows is a terrific tile laying game. Lu loves this one too. Not unlike Splendor it has a simple set of rules and components, but boasts a hearty game play experience.

On your turn you draw and place a tile, then place a shiny object on any empty tile. The goal is to get the most crows to flock to your shiny objects and not your opponents. To help, there are special tokens and tiles that change the rules on how crows flock.

In this world, there is nothing better than watching your adversary play a key tile, and place a shiny object that is going to give them ALL the crows, only to draw and place a “Trash” tile between the crows and their shiny object… Muhahaha!

I recommend this game if you’re sick of Carcassonne, but not ready for Caylus.


Seeland

Seeland

I bought this game after reading some reviews on the Geek. In my mind I thought Lu would love it. You plant flowers, and vegetables in Holland. A lot of games we own are about merchants or farmers and she doesn’t like it when you have to convert animals into meat, which is a common mechanism in those games. So I thought this would be a perfect break from that sort of thing.

The day the game came, I excitedly told her about it, and she frowned. She said “Windmills? Cabbage? Flowers? Who cares! That sounds like a dumb game.” Uh oh.

I convinced her to give it a try, it is designed by a one of the better German designers, and his games tend to be easy to learn and smooth to play, even when they are a bit heavier.

In Seeland, you play as wealthy Dutch merchants, who are trying to reclaim the land from around large flooded areas, by building windmills and planting vegetation. On your turn, you purchase seeds or construction plans from the market, place your newly purchased tile, and potentially evaluate a windmill for points. Simple, smooth game play just as expected.

Seeland is a surprisingly interesting tile laying game, with a very clever market mechanism. Additionally the game comes with several built in variants that add more scoring opportunities, or reduce the feeling of bad luck.

I recommend this game for any collection, it’s a fantastic introduction into the medium weight “Euro” game category.


Ninjato

Ninjato

Ninjas.

Seriously, who doesn’t like ninjas? Perhaps their victims? Ninjato is a “Worker Placement” game where the players take on the role of a master ninja, trying to disrupt and exploit the chaos of the political battle between three rival clans.

Each player will practice their skills in a Dojo, learn new skills from their sensei, break into and steal from the major clan houses, bribe envoys and spread rumors in the pavilion.

This game is dripping with theme, and gorgeous art work. You get wooden shurikens to place on the board to choose your action for the turn! When you break into a clan house, you get to decide whether to sneak in or go in swords-a-swinging. This choice affects how difficult stealing treasure will be.

Ninjato is a family favorite, we always have a blast playing it. I recommend this game for every collection, it’s just absolutely required to own.

dismiss

As a collector and player of many board games I am asked quite often, what my problem is. And also, what are some great games? So this is my first attempt at giving an answer to that second question. The first? Well, heck I don’t know, what’s yours?

Nothing means anything

Kurt Vonnegut circa 1970