It’s that time of year again, when we take a look back and do lots of Top game lists, but this year’s end is a bit special, it’s the end of a decade. A decade that started with 7 Wonders, Hanabi & Forbidden Island, and is ending with the likes of Die Crew, Wingspan & Res Arcana. There were lots of hits, even more misses and a lot of games over the decade that got lost in the continuous shuffle. So while a lot of outlets are going to give you their favorites of each year of the decade, we thought it may be a fun idea/experiment to take a look at some titles that have held the interest of folks here in The Opinionated Gamers. So for the next few weeks we’re going to take a look at these games and share our love of some of these off the radar titles. Feel free to participate in the comments and share your thoughts on games that we’ve overlooked.
Linko BGG Rank 811 (Brandon K)
AKA, Abluxxen, AKA, That Smarmy Looking Fox Game.
Kiesling and Kramer together have made some wonderful classic games, but for some reason, this little shedding game may be my favorite of the bunch.
It’s a simple premise. You are trying to get more cards played down in front of you, than you have in your hand by the end of the hand. After each hand a card in front is worth a point, and each card in hand is worth a negative point.
Each player starts with thirteen cards in hand, and on your turn you play down any number of cards of the same value in front of you. If any previous opponent has played the same number of cards, and those cards are of a lower value than what you played, you “Abluxx” them. What this means is that you now have a choice, you may take those cards played by your opponent into your hand, but doing this allows your opponent to draw new cards equal to the amount of cards you have taken, or you can defer to the opponent, who then has the choice. They can return the cards to their hand, or they can discard them and draw new cards equal to the amount discarded. A hand ends when a player is out of cards in hand, or the deck runs out.
A big part of the fun and strategy to Linko is that there is a “marketplace” of cards on display during the game, six cards that everyone sees. These are the cards you take when you decide to discard and draw. So you can make some powerful plays by essentially trading cards when you are Abluxxed. It’s a simple and wonderful game that continues to shine each time we play.
Blocky Mountains BGG Rank 5839 (James Nathan)
There was a time when we played a lot of dexterity games. That time isn’t now, and so there was a time when we transitioned from still having some excitement to try new ones to not having much. Blocky Mountains was around that time.
But the _feeling_ is much more. I felt like I was using different muscles than other dexterity games. This wasn’t balancing or flicking, this was…a game about static and kinetic friction. If you have a soft spot for quirky dexterity games, I think this one is worth checking out, even if visually it seems routine.
This is not my favorite game of the year, or my favorite unheralded game of the year, but it’s my favorite lesser-known one that I haven’t talked about much, if at all, before.
The Battle At Kemble’s Cascade BGG Rank 1886 (Mark Jackson)
Those of us who spend some portion of our youth frittering away (“frittering away our noontime, suppertime, chore time too!) on video arcade machines remember fondly games like Defender & Stargate (aka Defender II)… and the Tyrland brothers obliged by creating a side scrolling board game, complete with 8-bit graphics, clunky firing mechanics (you can’t fire diagonally – of course), and a nifty tray system that keeps the game moving towards you. (Nice touch – the trays can change size to better make the game work at various player numbers.)
It’s not a perfect game – it can be fiddly and some of the awards & cards are more powerful than others… but it captures the arcade experience perfectly. I can’t ask for much more than that.
Matt Carlson reviewed The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade for us here at OG back in the day.
Dungeon Dice BGG Rank 3463 (Matt Carlson)
There’s something about the teenage years that gravitates towards games where you can beat the snot out of each other, all in the name of good, clean fun. The poster child for the take-that genre is Munchkin, a game where players fight monsters to gain power and equipment in a race to be the first to “level 10.” Dungeon Dice takes that concept, adds in piles of dice (representing characters, equipment, spells, monsters, etc…) and also fixes one of the big problems with the game of Munchkin. While I wouldn’t be completely averse to playing Munchkin, the game naturally devolves into a “beat up on the leader” situation. This slows the game to a crawl while nearly everyone takes turns trying to get to the magic number 10, while all the other players (like lobsters in a bucket, pulling down those about to escape) prevent anyone from moving forward. This makes what might be a fast, chaotic game into a slog of a slow, chaotic game that can be painful to suffer through. Dungeon Dice manages a similar take-that game experience where players can hurt or help each other as they deem fit, but unlike Munchkin, players’ disposable resources are far more limited. Yes, players can beat down the leader with some of their saved up abilities, but since there are fewer resources to go around, a player has to balance the desire of holding another player back vs saving one’s resources to push their own cause forward. The game benefits from (and is held back by its complexity of) its several expansions which provide players with a multitude of monster and character abilities. The expansions quickly outpaced the provided rules. However, if at least one player is familiar with how the special abilities operate, it isn’t a large hurdle. Dungeon Dice is a fun little take-that romp where players can enjoy that feeling of power creep as they gain new dice into their pool and then turn those powers loose on each other when the need arises.
The Staufer Dynasty – BGG Rank 957 (Larry)
Lots of designers are known as one-hit wonders. Sometimes that title is deserved, but in other instances, it’s more of a case of other good games being overshadowed by one brilliant creation. Andreas Steding is a case in point. He has a bunch of fine designs to his credit (including 2018’s Gugong), but in all likelihood, he will always be known for his megahit, Hansa Teutonica. And while that’s indeed a great game, it’s a bit of a shame that he isn’t given more credit for his other stuff.
The Staufer Dynasty is one of those titles. It’s not a great game, nor is it particularly innovative. But it’s interesting, has lots of paths to victory, and plays very fast. Just a well designed and smoothly developed game. Even five years ago, there were enough games released that good designs would often get lost in the crowd. Sadly, The Staufer Dynasty is one of many titles that have fallen victim to that numbers game.
Too Many Cinderellas – BGG Rank 3883 (Joe Huber)
Once again, all I needed to do to find my favorite obscure (relatively) 2014 release was to find my favorite 2014, Too Many Cinderellas. I’m a fan of proof games – games where, rather than trying to deduce a fixed answer to a problem, you’re trying to prove, through your play, that the answer is what you want it to be. And Too Many Cinderellas is my favorite of the genre.
Shadows of Malice – BGG Rank 3435 (Jonathan F.)
I like overland adventure games that are about more than just combat. Jim Felli is an original designer (see his most recent, Cosmic Frogs), but this melds the best of a known genre such as Runebound along with Jim’s distinctive vision of how the game should evolve. He plays with tropes and adds the light well mechanism.
Gloobz – BGG Rank 5,564 (Talia)
Outfoxed – BGG Rank 1,149 (Talia)
Gloobz is a phenomenal speed-based pattern recognition game, following in the mold of Set and Geistesblitz (not to mention Pick a Pig, Panic Lab, and Twin It). Gloobz holds its own in that crowded category because of the unique way in which players decide before flipping a card whether everyone will look for the most common shape and color or the least common shape and color. This last-second announcement before each card is revealed forces players to try to flip a switch in their brain, which is confounded further by the potential game-changing magnifying glass and monster icons. This game works surprisingly well for both adults and children, particularly given the adorable toy-like components.
Speaking of children, Outfoxed is one of the best children’s games I’ve ever played (and I’ve played a lot). I’ll almost always go for a Haba game over any other publisher, but Gamewright knocked it out of the park with the brilliant Outfoxed. This Clue-like game of deducing the fox thief requires children to evaluate whether a potential suspect should be eliminated based on various articles of clothing that the culprit is or is not wearing. I’ve played this many times with my four-year-old and it’s been an absolute joy to see him gradually master the ability to rule a suspect in or out. Hopefully this means he’ll be playing Code 777 in no time!
Armymals BGG Rank 7748 (Alan How)
I selected this game as I gave it an 8 on Boardgamegeek while it has a much lower average rating. It’s sometime since I last played it but from what I remember its main virtue was the level of fun I experienced in playing it.
The game is a light-hearted war and resource gathering game using miniatures that feature animals in tanks. There are quite a few options for the players as they manipulate their resources armies to control strategic locations. I like the fact that there is a lot of variety not only in the objectives but also in how you achieve them.
If the purpose of this article is to highlight games that didn’t get exposed sufficiently, then it’s already succeeded as I now want to play the game straight away. And I seem to remember that I enjoyed it so much that I got two copies so for the life of me I can’t remember why. Perhaps the game really is good!
Other games from 2014 mentioned on the OG forums: Onitama, Deep Sea Adventure, Green Deal, 1944: Race for the Rhine, Da Yu: The Flood Conqueror.
The King is Dead BGG Rank 1,312 (Brandon K)
I really do like Area Majority games, it’s just rare for me to find them that play really well at lower player counts. I like El Grande and the lot of those titles at the max player count. The more the merrier, so to speak. But I rarely have four to five people to play them. In steps The King is Dead, an Area Majority game where you can only play at two or three players, and it absolutely nails it.
Previously known as Konig von Siam, The King is Dead uses card play to move influence cubes over a map as you vie for control over areas on the map. Along with controlling areas though you are fighting to control the factions on the board. There is a lot of give and take here and it creates a beautifully tense two or three player Area Majority game.
Ponzi Scheme BGG Rank 934 (James Nathan)
Oh, Ponzi Scheme. This one had slipped my planning for BGG.CON the year it was released, but it showed up mid-con at the back of the Hot Games area, and my friend Jason had heard some things about it. We sat down to play it with John, Paul, and another fellow whose name I’ve forgotten; they were a trio that I loved playing games with at the convention over the years, but I haven’t seen in several years. (The game of Ponzi Scheme aside, that instance of Ponzi Scheme remains one of my singularly favorite game play experiences.)
I get some of the same feelings out of Ponzi Scheme that I do out of Q.E. -an economic game that includes an unusual level of laughter and an economic game where I really wish I knew what _you_ think things are worth!
It’s a trading game with one-sided terms. That is, I make you an offer (cash for building tokens), and that trade _will_ happen, it is just a matter of will you take my cash and hand over the buildings, or will you match my offer and hand me more cash? Those building tokens are the victory points, the money is just a tool. Well, more specifically, the shovel that you are digging your own grave with. You will only obtain your initial money and the influx you need to continue operations by taking out loans at exorbitant interest rates –$15 now, but you’ll owe $43 in 4 turns. (Also, that loan doesn’t go away: after you pay that $43? You’ll have to pay that $43 again in 4 more turns, 8 more turns, etc!)
Things continue to snowball until one player can’t pay their loans. But all of this is happening in secret. Your money is behind a screen. When you make a trade, you slip an unannounced amount of money into a leather wallet and hand it to another player. The suspense of what each player thinks things are worth. How close are they to bankruptcy. Can I take just one more loan? Is that player desperate enough for cash that I can buy their assets for pennies?
This is not my favorite game of the year, or my favorite unheralded game of the year, but it’s my favorite lesser-known one that I haven’t talked about much, if at all, before. (And at rank 931, not toooo unheralded!)
Baseball Highlights 2045 BGG Rank 423 (Mark Jackson)
Let’s start with a key fact – I’m not a fan of actual baseball… but I tend to like baseball board games. Baseball on television is only slightly more exciting than golf on television – and thanks to ESPN and about 50 other cable sports channels, if I’m that bored, I can watch axe throwing, competitive cornhole, and/or esports. (On the positive side, I would have missed out on ice cross downhill and freeride mountain biking if not for those oddball sports channels.)
But I digress. A lot.
We’re talking about baseball games – and in the case of Baseball Highlights 2045, we’re talking about a heavily abstracted baseball game with a future version of baseball that involved cybernetically enhanced pitchers and robot batting machines with wheels. And yet… it gets the “feel” of baseball right. More importantly, it involves really great gameplay as your team changes via deck-building and you work to get the right players in the lineup to slow down/stop or out-score your opponent.
Almost every game I’ve played has been wonderful… including a couple of times playing a 4 player tournament version (which runs a little long but works like a charm). Mike Fitzgerald designed a real beauty here.
Two sad notes:
- Football Highlights 2052 is not as good as Baseball Highlights 2045… it’s fine, but it doesn’t feel like you have nearly as much control of the game coupled with a higher cognitive load due to the complexity of the cards. (And I say that as a big actual football fan.)
- The rules are organized in what can only be called an arcane fashion – this is not unusual for the publisher in question. It makes learning the game much more difficult than necessary.
Stellar Conflict BGG Rank 2899 (Matt Carlson)
Most of my unheralded picks are rather lightweight. Stellar Conflict, a realtime game where players are slapping their spaceship cards down onto the table, is yet another example. Players start the game with a custom deck of ships and then have 30 to 120 seconds to play their ships down onto the table. Ship cards display weapons fire, shields, speed, and other factors. Once all the cards are down (or time is up) the ships resolve in the order of their speed. The more powerful ships typically acting later in the round. Shots are fired (the direction determined with rubber bands overlaid on the ship card’s beams) with eliminated ships removed from the board. This could (and often does) result in slower ships firing upon completely unexpected targets. The pace of the game bounces between the frantic two minutes of play, followed by 5 or so minutes of resolution (no decisions to be made, just consequences tracked.) Stellar Conflict is a more robust remake of the old Cheapass game Light Speed, and I welcome most of the changes. Each of the four possible ship decks have their own alien theme and powers (such as messing with other ships’ speeds, penetrating lasers, etc..), and can be customized further depending on the “size” of the game chosen. I enjoyed it enough to include it in my 2016 Holiday Guide over at GamerDad.com
Think Str8! – BGG Rank 4774 (Larry)
So what does happen when the irresistible force meets the immovable object? Here’s a gaming example. I love deduction games (not social deduction, but pure deduction, like Clue and its ilk). I also tend to pretty strongly dislike Leo Colovini’s designs–he’s a solid designer, but his games just don’t work for me. Think Str8! is a Colovini designed pure deduction game. So which preference will win out?
I guess the force was with Leo this time, because this is a really good design and one of the best deduction games to have appeared in recent years. Each player is trying to guess what numbered cards they’ve been dealt (they’re pointed away from their owner, so everyone else can see them). You can ask questions about the sum of some of your cards to gain information. The clever part is that you can ask about wide ranges or narrow ones, with the latter giving you less data most times, but more in-game points. However, correctly guessing your cards at the end of the game gives you nice points as well. Thus, there are different strategies you can employ: score more points early and hope to deduce well, or score fewer in-game points and count on cleaning up at the end. Most gamers think pure deduction is too much work, so I guess this was never going to be a best seller. But that’s too bad, since there’s all sorts of nice touches here and it’s just very well thought out. You can imagine how shocked I was after playing it for the first time and finding out it was designed by Colovini, of all people. Great job, Leo!
Also from 2015: I love Baseball Highlights and the one time I played Ponzi Scheme, I thought it showed great promise.
Minerva – BGG Rank 2322 (Joe Huber)
Again, Minerva is simply my favorite game released in 2015. Thanks to an English release, it’s no longer so obscure as it once was – but it’s still a favorite of mine for the huge number of opportunities for clever play the game offers. Done right, a player can keep taking turns for a long time late in the game. That’s unusual, and quite empowering; the possibility of continuing to take turns (at the relatively low cost of giving other players ⅓ of a victory point for each extra turn one takes) allows for a myriad of options just not present in most games.
Secrets of the Lost Tomb – BGG Rank 3256 (Jonathan F.)
Since people have mentioned almost all my favorites, I’ll go with this mix of Betrayal At House on the Hill and a dungeon crawler. It is large, sprawling, and has a pulpy exuberance. It is not an every weekend sort of a game, but I am glad to have it for that longer thematic game where you can wander into all sorts of baddies..
Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn – BGG Rank 517 (Talia)
While Ashes is not particularly low ranked, I thought it was worth highlighting here because it’s such a fantastic card game. I’m a big fan of strategy card games that have expansions in which you know all the cards you’ll be getting (like Android: Netrunner and Star Wars: The Card Game), rather than random packs of cards (like Magic: The Gathering). Ashes reminds me of Summoner Wars, but feels less random because it uses dice in an interesting way to restrict the various actions that you can perform (vaguely like War of the Ring). The most fascinating and challenging part of Ashes is figuring out what order to do things in because each turn feels like it could play out completely differently depending on how you sequence your actions (like Caylus). The huge array of “phoenixborn” leaders makes this a joy to experiment with different match-ups, the clever use of a separate “conjuration” deck, and the well-integrated ability to choose your starting hand make this gem stand out for me among a crowded field of strategy card games.
Other games mentioned from 2015 on the OG Forums: Joraku, Argent the Consortium, Katteni Shiyagare, The Voyages of Marco Polo.