Friday, April 14, 2017

Lesser Known Gems

Inspired by a post on The Cardboard Hoard, I'd like to present my "hidden gems" - 9 games I think are pretty dang good, even if the BGG group-think has at least 1000 games ranked ahead of them (i.e. these are not in BGG's top 1000). But first, honorable mentions to a couple of games I'm leaving out because in my head, they are top 1000 games. Cthulhu Realms, Keltis, Priests of Ra. Cthulhu Realms is basically a re-theme of Star Realms. It is and it isn't, but it is close enough. Keltis was redone as Lost Cities: The Boardgame, which is really the same game but better themed, and LC:TB sits in the top 1000. Priests of Ra was a re-working of Ra. If you have read my earlier posts, I mention that I think PoR is the better version, but it never really had the print run that the earlier game did. Both are great and very similar. I'm pretty sure PoR is just not well enough known.

I feel like a fair number of these choices ARE known, just not liked as much as I care for them, but nonetheless, here we go. I'm listing them not in the order I rank them, but rather their "BGG natural ranking order".

America Rails
This should not be a surprise if you read my blog. I think this is an outstanding stock game that surpassed its inspiration (Chicago Express) in every way. It sits just outside my top 25. It isn't an easy to find game - very limited print runs make it an obscure title. That being said, if you liked Chicago Express in anyway, you owe it to yourself to go find a copy and play this. Understanding the rules and teaching the game is a simple and straightforward affair, but as with a lot of stock/train games, understanding the systems and how to manipulate them and your opponents is where this game shines.

Edel, Stein & Reich
This is/was part of the Alea Small Box line (#4) and I don't believe I ever saw an English printing (unless you count Basari, which is a remake that is slightly different). There are a couple of events that have foreign text, but a cheat sheet will get you through the handful of them. This is a game that is best with exactly 4-players and here's why - each round, you select one of the three actions you can take. Each player selects an action and all players reveal them at the same time. If you are the only player who took a particular action, you get to carry it out. Otherwise, you have to bargain with the other players who selected the same as you, because at most, one player gets to take each of the actions in a round. With 4-players, at least two players are bargaining. Can you figure out what the best action to take is? Is it worth taking an action that isn't desirable to the other players so you get something without having to negotiate? Do you take the obvious choice because other players figure everyone will pick it?

Frank's Zoo
How is this not in the top 1000? This is a great family card game - it is a ladder game (like trick taking, but it goes around and around until everyone passes). The goals are to go out as early as possible and to take tricks with certain cards. This card game uses cards with animals on them and the cards show which other animals they are afraid of. It really is a clever game and I was surprised to see it ranked so poorly. I've found this plays well with any number. It plays from 3-7 players, though 5 might be the sweet spot. Go get this game.

Don't take my word for this one. Have you played Tiny Epic Something? This is from the same guy. If this had been marketed as Tiny Epic Eurogame, this would have been in the top 100 at BGG. This is a fairly recent game, but I think gets overlooked because of the package size and generic name. The next time you hear people bitching about large boxes / wasted shelf space, point at this game and see if they have heard of it or played it. When they say no, you can say this is why publishers use big boxes of air to market their games. This is a worker placement / engine game with a dynamic market mechanism. Each time a player purchases a building, the value of the resources they used drops, while the value of the other resources rise. There is a lot of clever game in this small box and the setup ensures a varied experience.

Code 777
This is a deduction game, so I understand why it is outside the top 1000. Deduction/logic games are not everyone's cup of tea. There have been a couple good releases in the last couple years and this is an older one, so I can see why it might have been overlooked. This one is pretty good - on your turn, you read a card that has a question (How many racks have a total greater than 12?). The answer helps you figure out your tiles, which you cannot see, but everyone else can. You in turn can see everyone else's. If you like deduction games, try this. If you hate them, you can skip this as you will want to poke your brain out.

Not Tiny Epic Something, but another pretty recent game that is really good and I don't know why it isn't higher. This came from the same guys that gave us Star Realms. It is a deckbuilder game (either play by drafting, or dealing random decks or build your own) - heck you could almost call it an LCG, except that unlike FFGs model of releasing chapter packs, you are pretty much ready to go with the game as is. Yes, there are expansions, but nothing like a FFG LCG. As far as playing it goes - unlike a lot of CCGs, you can pretty much play any card from your hand right out the gate, so there is no build up, you just start kicking butt. It is really well balanced, interesting and deep. Magic players should really enjoy this game, and those that like the idea of Magic, but don't have the time, money or resources to deck build - this is your game! And it is a mere $15 for a base set of cards, which is all you need to start playing. This is the game you pull out on game night with a group that likes CCGs but doesn't want to spend time deck tuning. My son and I really like this and draft 30 card decks and play. We love that we can try different things and it is still exciting game after game.

Holmes: Sherlock and Mycroft
This arrived in 2015 without much fanfare, which is too bad. Its a clever little two player game that isn't too long, yet gives you some interesting choices. I'm guessing it has been fairly unnoticed because it was from a small publisher. I know there are a fair number of people that only play two-player games and are always looking for something. Look no further. Or look, because it isn't well distributed. It was on the BGG store for a bit and I found it on Amazon in limited quantities.

This falls in the same genre as To Court the King - it is a dice game, where you gain abilities that give you access to more dice. Unlike the purer TCtK form, this uses special dice and there are a couple different ways to score points for the victory (TCtK is a "best roll at the end wins" instead of most points wins). Multiple ways to score points makes this a better game in my book, but to each their own. This is also slightly longer than TCtK and takes up about 8x more shelf space :). More Euro-gamey than the "advanced Yahtzee", it is still a dice game at its core.

Neue Heimat
This is an auction game. A wonderfully beauty of a knife fight in a phone booth. It has a closed economy, so is pretty unforgiving. It won't be everyone's kind of game, but I loved it. You really have to like this sort of thing. It is/was a low run import (from Europe). Find a copy and three other players with somewhat thick skins. This one is really different than a lot of games I've tried so it is hard to describe beyond what I said about it in generic terms. If you don't like auction games, or hold a grudge, move along.

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