Top 20 Most Underappreciated Games

Reef Encounter Cover Artwork

This week the Opinionated Gamers are publishing a series of articles ranking games in a few different ways based on data collected from many different contributors.  Today’s topic is the most underappreciated games, which we understood to be games that we love and that don’t get as much widespread acclaim or attention as we think they warrant.  Sixteen contributors voted on their picks for most underappreciated games to come up with today’s list, including Alan How, Brian Leet, Erik Arneson, Fraser McHarg, Greg Schloesser, Joe Huber, Larry Levy, Lorna, Patrick Korner, Mark Jackson, Matt Carlson, RJ Garrison, Simon Neale, Talia Rosen, Tery Noseworthy, and Wei-Hwa Huang.

It was an exciting race with over 110 different games receiving at least one vote.  We’re publishing our Top 20 most underappreciated games here to draw attention to a few diamonds in the rough.  Some of these games are actually quite popular and well-known, but just not quite as beloved as we collectively think they ought to be.  Without further ado, here are the games that we think you may be overlooking and not giving their due:

(20) Armageddon

39 points from 2 voters, including 1 gold medal (Mark Jackson) and 1 silver medal (Erik Arneson)

I had never heard of this 2016 Queen games release that sits at #3,903 in the BGG rankings, but clearly Mark and Erik think that I’ve missed something special here.  Designers Chris Marling and David Thomson have done a few other games, but this is the one that the OG thinks you need to check out.

  • Mark: This was one of those “surprise!” games at Essen 2016 – not a lot of fanfare, relatively unknown designers, etc. – but it continues to be one of my favorite auction-ish games for 3-4 players.
Armageddon Cover Artwork

Imagine a three-way collision between the Mad Max films, an auction game, and a worker-placement city-building game. Throw in a little Notre Dame-ish fend off the invaders (marauders instead of rats). Workers can be used as currency for auctions (sending them out to build buildings and scavenge resources) or placed on your personal compound to defend against marauders and accomplish other tasks.

The artwork is evocative without leaning too hard into the dystopian grimness… and the iconography is very clear once you get the hang of it. I’ve found that it takes players 2-3 rounds (roughly half a game) to get acclimated and then they’re ready to defend their very tiny barb-wire encrusted empire.

I’ve been working on a review of this for nearly 3 years… don’t let my inability to get it finished keep you from trying this wonderful game. (And it’s still available at pretty decent prices!) 

(19) Diplomacy

39 points from 2 voters, including 1 gold medal (Fraser McHarg) and 1 silver medal (RJ Garrison)

Diplomacy Cover Artwork

From an obscure Queen game from a few years ago, to a world renowned game from over 60 years ago.  Diplomacy is actually tied with Armageddon, but I gave it the nod because… I love Diplomacy.  I actually didn’t vote for it here because I think it is pretty well appreciated, but designer Allan B. Calhamer is a genius, as I wrote about back in 2009.  Diplomacy is a truly brilliant and foundational design that everyone should play at least once with your six closest friends. This classic was also featured in Larry Levy’s recent Gaming Timeline: 1950-1959.

  • RJ: I love this game.  I’m not sure it’s even a game so much as a full day event with a bunch of friends that will hopefully still remain friends after playing.  (I won’t play this with just anyone.)  I find it’s best played in a large house with several rooms that have someone’s copy of the game set up in each room.  This allows players to go and discuss around a map, plan their strategies, make deals and see what’s going to happen.  The game is called “Diplomacy” for a reason and I’ve often heard that you have to lie and backstab friends in the game, but have found that with careful wording in negotiations as well as careful negotiations you can do quite well without lying or backstabbing at all.

(18) Was Sticht

40 points from 3 voters, including 1 bronze medal (Tery Noseworthy)

Was sticht? Cover Artwork

Karl Heinz-Schmiel does it again!  This 1993 trick-taking game may just be the best trick-taking game ever, and it’s certainly underappreciated by all those Tichu and The Crew fans.  While Karl may be known for Die Macher or Tribune, his work on Extrablatt and Was Sticht is what really sets him apart as an incredible designer.  If you’ve ever wanted a trick-taking game where you weren’t at the mercy of the hand you’re dealt, then run to try Was Sticht, where you get to draft your hand (while trying to deduce the dominant suit) before then playing your hand.

  • Tery: This is one of my top 10 games of all time. You better play well, because you can’t claim you got hosed by a bad deal; you CHOSE that hand, so you have no one to blame but yourself.  I love the puzzle of figuring out the trump(s) while you select cards, and then using those cards to try to achieve one of the goal chits you have. It’s tense in all the right ways. I am surprised no one has reprinted this.

(17) Patchistory

41 points from 3 voters, including 1 silver medal (Brian Leet) and 1 bronze medal (RJ Garrison)

Patchistory Cover Artwork

This epic 2013 civilization game by Yeon-Min Jung and Jun-Hyup Kim sure got a lot of attention and acclaim when it came out, but it seems to have disappeared from most people’s radar, sitting now down at #1,176 in the BGG rankings.  Well, Brian and RJ would like you to remember this game!  I scooped up Patchistory shortly after the 2013 BGG.CON and enjoyed the game 9 times, but then sold it during a large collection purge in 2017, which I somewhat regret since I wouldn’t mind giving it another go.  It’s too bad my Clash of Civilization Games article was put together shortly before Patchistory came out because it would have compared favorably to Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game, Clash of Cultures, and even Through the Ages in some ways.

  • Larry:  I didn’t vote for this one, but I do think it’s an excellent and unappreciated Civ game.  However, I haven’t played it since soon after its release, so it was kind of out of sight, out of mind.  Still, it’s an innovative and dramatic game with an epic feel and deserves to be better known.  The “patching” mechanic which is at the heart of the game is very clever and can now be found in quite a few other titles.
  • Brian: This game has stayed in regular rotation as a three player game with a particular group of friends for the past seven years. It’s showing up so highly on my list is a reflection of my affinity for quirky games that do things just a little bit differently. At its heart it is an auction game, and the auctions are relatively direct, which would normally be a point against it. However, the cleverness of the patching, where you slowly expand on and cover over your prior plays is compelling. The game is filled with historical figures and technologies, and they each take a brief turn in the sun as you debate their merits in the set-up for each auction phase. This isn’t a game I’d recommend to everyone, but it deserves broader recognition and is worth a try if the theme and puzzle nature intrigue.
  • RJ: This is one of my favorite Civ games that I never play.  I think it’s design is quite fun and puzzley.  It has a mechanic that doesn’t allow players to simply focus on just military or just technology, etc  Instead, each player has to build all aspects of their civilization or they get penalized if they fall too far behind.  I had it at one point, but sold it to help defray the cost of an engagement ring, so may have to add it back to the collection.  What’s that?  Did I hear a stimulus check arrive in the mail?!?

(16) Kreta

42 points from 3 voters

Kreta Cover Artwork

Now we start getting to the reasons that I created this list in the first place!  Kreta is criminally underappreciated.  This 2005 Stefan Dorra title from Goldsieber deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as El Grande.  I firmly believe that El Grande is the area control game for 5 players, and Kreta is the quintessential area control game for 4 players (and San Marco for 3, and Louis XIV for 2).  I’ve played it 27 times over the years, and it definitely stands the test of time.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of trying this classic, then check out MaBiWeb for a digital implementation or the BGG market for one of those underpriced used copies.

  • Patrick: Kreta resonates with me for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the box’s form factor is different from any other Goldsieber game I own – thin and skinny. But mostly because, in my opinion at least, this is the progenitor from which most ‘draft your hand to play over the course of the game’ titles drew inspiration. The role selection / eventually pick up all your roles and do it again mechanism that we all know and love from Concordia shows up here, albeit without the ability to add any more cards to your hand (your hand in this game is fixed from turn one). Add in some vicious territorial maneuvering, the ability to collect olives and cheese – what’s not to like?

(15) La Citta

42 points from 3 voters, including 2 gold medals (Greg Schloesser and Tery Noseworthy)

La Città Cover Artwork

Two gold medals!  This brilliant game by Gerd Fenchel was published in 2000 and received a Spiel des Jahres recommendation that year.  It’s probably far too complicated even for a Kennerspiel nod these days. I personally rate this game a 10, which is a rating that I only give to 20 games (i.e., 1.1% of the 1,802 games that I’ve tried).  La Citta is a Survival Game, which is a category I unsuccessfully tried to popularize back in 2008.  Long before you were scraping by to feed your family in Agricola, you were farming and feeding in La Citta.  At the same time, you were trying to woo your opponents’ people away, while hoping you could feed all of the people that you attracted.  La Citta is a true gem.

  • Brian: While this game didn’t quite make my voting list, it is a well deserved spot, and I’m glad to see it here. At the time it came out it was a remarkable level of quality and quantity for components for the price. La Citta is a game that everyone should give a try.
  • Tery: I will never understand why this game is not more popular. I agree that Survival Game is the perfect category for this game. Feed your citizens, or they will leave, shrinking your city. You’d better let them bathe, too, or your city will grow. You’d also better try to read the tea leaves as to what they want, so that you can provide it better than your neighboring cities, or your fickle populace will relocate. It is one of my top 5 games of all time.

(14) Fast Food Franchise

43 points from 4 voters

Fast Food Franchise Cover Artwork

This 1992 game by Tom Lehmann has a bunch of OG fans, including Joe Huber, Brian Leet, Tery Noseworthy, and Wei-Hwa Huang.  I sadly don’t know anything about Fast Food Franchise, but I would love for one of them to teach it to me at a convention some day.

  • Mark: Imagine if the designer of Race for the Galaxy decided to make a roll-and-move that both gamers & non-gamers could love… that combined some very Monopoly-ish elements with tactical board play. And then you can wake up and play it, because this is actually Tom Lehmann’s first game design!
  • Brian: I can still recall speaking with Tom at Origins the year I purchased this game. I believe it was 1995 and FFF reflected a strong theory of making games which had enough of the familiar to be understandable, while introducing new elements that add strategy and depth. Fast Food Franchise succeeds by keeping the core Monopoly roll and move each turn play loop and adding key decisions about which franchises to launch, when to invest, when to advertise, and when to hold onto a cash reserve. 

(13) Nexus Ops

43 points from 4 voters

Board Game: Nexus Ops

I find myself recommending this 2005 Avalon Hill game to people more than almost any other game in existence.  Any time I’m at a local game store and someone is looking for a short Risk-like game, I can’t help myself from talking up the virtues of Nexus Ops, even though it’s sadly hard to track down these days.  The best part of Nexus Ops is the partnership variant where you play 2 vs. 2 in a team game.  I adore the way that Nexus Ops discourages turtling and rewards aggression (in stark contrast to games like Twilight Imperium and Antike).  Basically, Nexus Ops gives you everything that Twilight Imperium does but in 1 hour instead of 4+ hours.

  • Mark: What Talia said… especially the part about turtling.
  • Matt: Seconding all of the above. I also compare it favorably to Axis & Allies, as I love being able to buy whichever units I want at the time of purchase. (Nexus Ops gives you everything Axis & Allies gives you but in 1 hour instead to 2+ hours.)  I also have minor bragging rights as I managed to sell a series of four strategy articles on the game to Wizards of the Coast. One of the few times I’ve actually been paid something in relation to boardgaming. (Hmm, they no longer seem to be around, I may have to post them over at BGG or something…)

(12) Mystery Rummy: Al Capone

43 points from 3 voters, including 1 bronze medal (Mark Jackson)

Mystery Rummy: Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld Cover Artwork

I’ve always felt like I was missing something by not having tried the Mystery Rummy series, and this helps confirm that feeling.  I’ll have to find my way to trying Mystery Rummy, which was started by designer Mike Fitzgerald in 1998, but continued with five different games to date, including Al Capone in 2003, which Mark Jackson, Erik Arneson, and Greg Schloesser think we’re all underappreciating.  If Mark, Erik, and Greg all think so, then I’m inclined to agree!

  • Mark: This is my favorite of the Mystery Rummy series… mostly because it feels a bit like Canasta (possibly my favorite standard deck card game) in how difficult it is to hide key cards from your opponent(s). In my opinion, this is the easiest of the Mystery Rummy games to teach to non-gamers. Warning: while MR: Al Capone is a great 2-handed game and a wonderful partnership game, it drags on way too long with three players.
  • Larry:  I like all of the excellent Mystery Rummy games, but like Mark, this is probably my favorite.  I love the fact that no card is safe, whether it’s in your hand, in a meld, or in the discard pile.  Always enjoyable.

(11) Santiago

43 points from 5 voters, including 1 silver medal (Fraser McHarg)

Santiago Cover Artwork

This classic 2003 Z-Man release designed by Claudia Hely and Roman Pelek was another example of brutal farming long before Agricola made it cool.  Santiago should be played with 5 players that don’t mind some cutthroat auctions that might well result in your crops withering and dying on the vine.  The online implementation at SpielByWeb is good, but the real experience comes from sitting around a table and staring into the eyes of your fellow farmers as you wheedle and cajole your way to those much needed canals that carry the water of life and victory points. In a weird way, Santiago even helped inspire my own Supreme Court board game design.

  • Larry:  Yes, Santiago isn’t for those whose feelings are easily bruised.  The design practically forces you to screw your opponents and that’s one of the reasons I like it so much.  You’ve really got to analyze the game situation and figure out where that precious water will be coming from before you decide to go for the big bribe or sit back and let that bribe money trickle in.  Great stuff and one of our go-to games with 5 players.

(10) Brew Crafters

43 points from 4 voters, including 1 gold medal (RJ Garrison)

I’m going to have to let RJ or the other OG contributors that voted for this 2013 game by Ben Rosset explain why this game deserves to be in the Top 10 of the most underappreciated board games of all time.  I’ve never heard of it, so I can assure you that I don’t appreciate it.  The BGG database tells me that if I like Castles of Mad King Ludwig and Suburbia, then I’ll like Brew Crafters.  So is this a game for Ted Alspach fans that also love craft beer?

  • RJ: I don’t see the connection to Castles or Suburbia.  If anything, I find that Brew Crafters has scratches the same itch as Dinosaur Island.  Actually, I find they are so similar in style of play, as much as I wanted Dinosaur Island, I found that I didn’t need both games and already had the amazing Brew Crafters.  But the game is an excellent worker placement/ engine building/ build your brewery game.  (Instead of a worker placement/ engine building/ build your own dinosaur park game).
  • Tery:  I don’t see the connection to Castles or Suburbia either, It’s a good engine builder with worker placement, and as a fan of craft beer I enjoy the theme. Plus it took me hours to punch out all those individual bottles of beer, so it is not going anywhere until it has been thoroughly played.

(9) Cheeky Monkey

45 points from 4 voters, including 1 bronze medal (Erik Arneson)

Cheeky Monkey Cover Artwork

This 2007 Knizia design is certainly a classic push-your-luck game that has fallen by the wayside in recent years.  If you want a rave for this underappreciated game, then check out this detailed review.  

  • Matt: I love breaking this out to play with non-gamers, and the legless monkey version is definitely the preferred version.  If you want an Opinionated Gamer take on the game, you can check out my review on the site from back in 2013 which features one of the rare times W. Eric Martin chipped in with his opinion on a review.

(8) Schnappchen Jagd

45 points from 3 voters, including 1 silver medal (Greg Schloesser)

Board Game: Bargain Hunter

We sure love our trick-taking games at the OG.  Yesterday, we gave the prize of our favorite recent game to The Crew, and today we regale you with the underappreciated nature of both Was Sticht and Schnappchen Jagd!  This 1998 card game from Queen Games by Uwe Rosenberg was republished by Valley Games in 2010 as “Bargain Hunter.”  When I have three-players and I’m looking for a trick-taking game then I would usually reach for Die Sieben Siegel, Bottle Imp, or Sticheln, rather than Schnappchen Jagd, but that’s just me.  I guess the three-player trick-taking market is pretty crowded!

  • Tery: I am a trick-taking fiend, and this one is one of my favorites. The theme does nothing for me, but the game itself is terrific. Trying to balance collecting sets while not taking too many cards you don’t want leads to an interesting game and scores that are all over the map. At the time it came out I wasn’t aware of other good 3 player trick taking games, so this seemed novel, but it had staying power and is a game I still play today.

(7) Stephensons Rocket

48 points from 4 voters, including 1 gold medal (Larry Levy)

Board Game: Stephenson's Rocket

I can’t believe Larry can now call himself a bigger Stephensons Rocket fan than me!  I thought I was the biggest Stephensons Rocket fan in the world.  Larry, who laughs at me for always bringing 1990s games like Stephensons and Lowenherz to game days, when he’s showing up with the latest hotness by Simone Luciani.  I voted for Stephensons, and I rate the game a 10, but I didn’t give it quite as much love as Larry apparently.  Of the 625+ games designed by Reiner Knizia, Stephensons Rocket is the best.  This three-player 60-minute train game is just sublime.  The veto mechanism is unparalleled, and even after 32 plays, I’m eager to play many more times.  This is an unintuitive game, so make sure to play it a few times to get the hang of it, and also make sure to Always. Be. Vetoing.

  • Larry: I’m not sure I love Stephenson’s more than Talia does, even though it’s one of my top 10 games of all time.  But I do recognize that despite its greatness, it isn’t terribly well known in the gaming community and that’s a crime.  I’m not sure I can say it much better than Talia did–it is Knizia’s masterpiece and the veto mechanism is perhaps my favorite in all of gaming.  Because of it, you’re involved in every decision by every player; it’s the ultimate in player interaction.  No random factors, no hidden elements, and no alteration in the starting position–the beauty of its elegant rules and the players’ actions themselves somehow makes this play differently every time.  It’s so easy to learn and so hard to master; just a gem of a game.  For God’s sake, just go out, find a copy, and play it!

(6) Before the Wind

48 points from 3 voters, including 1 gold medal (Talia Rosen) and 1 bronze medal (Alan How)

Before the Wind Cover Artwork

This game is actually the reason that I started this survey and list in the first place, so I’m thrilled to see it make the list with the assist from fellow fans Alan How and Simon Neale.  Before the Wind (originally Vor dem Tor) is a 2007 game by Torsten Landsvogt, published by Phalanx and Mayfair, that packs an incredible amount of game into a small box card game.  Don’t let the fairly drab artwork fool you, this is a highly interactive game that revolves around the core mechanism of extortion.  You are tasked with setting prices for goods and actions that you’d be happy to pay but also happy to receive in exchange for basically missing your turn.  After you set the price, your opponents get to pick what you’re stuck with.  This is an agonizing and incredibly rewarding game that easily deserves to be in the Top 50 of all-time on BGG, not down at #2,202 in the rankings.

(5) Ora et Labora

50 points from 4 voters, including 1 silver medal (Tery Noseworthy)

Ora et Labora Cover Artwork

As someone who despises this 2011 game by Uwe Rosenberg (and rates it a generous 4 out of 10), I’ll have to defer to my fellow OG contributors to explain to you what could possibly be underappreciated about this game that sits all the way up at #141 in the BGG rankings and #93 in the strategy rankings.  I, for one, would argue that Ora et Labora is dramatically over-appreciated due to its fiddly and convoluted kitchen-sink gameplay.  I suppose it’s no surprise that, according to BGG, fans of Ora et Labora also like the misery that is Vinhos, Glass Road, Bora Bora, and Trajan.

  • Matt: I’m going with Talia on this one.  I was excited to try out another Uwe Rosenberg game, but when I got it to the table it just seemed like there was a lot going on and not so much in a good way.  It’s not broken or bad, and I’d be willing to play it again, but there are many others higher in the queue.
  • Larry:  I didn’t vote for Ora because I don’t think it’s underappreciated; after all, it was the 17th ranked game on the Geek for a while.  But it is a brilliant game and in my all-time Top 10.  It’s absolutely fired Le Havre for me and Le Havre is quite a good game, but I can’t imagine playing it while Ora is in the world.  As for it being fiddly, it deals with resources in a much simpler manner than earlier Rosenberg games, thanks to it being the game where Uwe introduced the resource wheel, a time-saver that has been a part of his designs ever since.  I do have to be at the top of my game to play this, but I adore it whenever I do.  It’s Rosenberg’s masterpiece in my book and that’s awfully high praise.
  • Tery: When I voted for this I did not realize it was so well ranked on the Geek. I feel like I don’t know a lot of people who know it or like it if they do know it.  I particularly love Ora et Labora as a 3 player game. Sure, it’s fiddly – but no more fiddly than most Rosenberg games. Sure, you’re acquiring lands, farming and building like you do in a lot of Rosenberg games, but this has some different mechanics that give it a different feel, and Rosenberg excels at putting a different twist on a theme.  Do not play this with 2 players, though, even though the rules will tell you it’s okay. It does not work.

(4) Phoenicia

51 points from 3 voters, including 1 gold medal (Wei-Hwa Huang) and 1 silver medal (Larry Levy)

Phoenicia Cover Artwork

Tom Lehmann strikes again with his second entry on the list.  I’m sure Wei-Hwa or Larry will jump in to explain the virtues of Phoenicia to you.  I vaguely remember trying this game once almost 10 years ago.  It looks like Phoenicia is readily available, so this is one of the rare underappreciated games on this list that you can easily pick up and try if you’re interested.

  • Larry:  Most people consider Race for the Galaxy to be Lehmann’s masterpiece, but for me, it will always be Phoenicia.  It’s a fairly straightforward economic game based around the auctioning of cards and the actions necessary to best develop them.  But it’s superbly balanced and has many paths to victory, including the rare feat of providing players who have fallen behind in the early turns a path they can follow.  The game is jam-packed with good and refined ideas and plays very quickly.  Unfortunately, the publisher did a hatchet job on both the game’s graphics and its rules (Tom’s simple prototype looked much better and was infinitely easier to learn), which doomed the game to being quickly forgotten.  But there is a small, but very loyal fanbase, who can see the brilliance of the game in spite of its surface flaws.  So yes, Phoenicia is very much an underappreciated gem, but there are good (and tragic) reasons for that.

(3) Lowenherz

55 points from 4 voters, including 1 bronze medal (Greg Schloesser)

Löwenherz Cover Artwork

The other 1990s game that I still bring to game events all the time (in addition to Stephensons Rocket mentioned earlier).  While Stephensons is the classic game for three players, Lowenherz is the classic game for four players.  They’re both pretty confrontational, some might say nasty, but they’re an incredibly engaging way to spend 60-90 minutes.  These games came long before multiplayer solitaire had taken over the German-style scene.  I’d argue that Lowenherz is the best Klaus Teuber design, but don’t play it without a full complement of four players.  Much like Before the Wind, Lowenherz has you bargaining and negotiating over price in a winner-take-all phone booth that routinely leaves players out in the cold with no action, no turn, and no mercy.  You might as well write “Not for the Faint of Heart” on the box.

(2) Spyrium

59 points from 4 voters, including 1 bronze medal (Simon Neale)

Spyrium Cover Artwork

Wow!  The “other” William Attia game comes in as a surprise entry near the top of today’s list.  Following up the 2005 mega-hit of Caylus was always going to be a challenge, but 2013’s Spyrium certainly has its many fans at the OG.  I sold my copy many years ago after playing it 5 times, so I’ll need to lean on Simon, Larry, Wei-Hwa, and Greg to detail the virtues of this steampunk worker placement game.

  • Larry: Spyrium is an unassuming game:  72 simply illustrated cards, some meeples, and a handful of other components.  And yet that somehow houses a wonderfully refined and highly variable economic game.  The heart of the game is the auction.  9 cards are laid out in a 3×3 array each round and the players place their meeples between them.  Instead of placing a meeple, you can remove one of yours, either to buy a card next to it (at a penalty for each other meeple that’s next to it) or to earn money (equal to the number of meeples next to the card).  That mechanism alone is brilliant, as the process becomes an intricate game of chicken and anticipating moves.  But the actions you can take with the cards are equally interesting.  The real marvel is that despite the fact that nearly all the cards are used every game, each session plays very differently.  It’s a superb design, that sadly never managed to emerge from Caylus’ giant shadow.  But as good as Caylus is, for me, Spyrium is Attia’s best game.

(1) Reef Encounter

63 points from 6 voters

Reef Encounter R&D Games first edition 2004

Richard Breese claims the top spot with his beautiful 2005 game inspired by David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet.  This thematically quirky tile-laying game of parrot shrimp, algae cylinders, polyp tiles, and larva cubes has engendered a lot of lovely creativity in the creative image gallery on BGG.  Whether you’re playing the gorgeous pastel original or the deeply saturated reprint, you’re in for a great game of battling shrimp that is vaguely reminiscent of Tigris & Euphrates, but with an almost stock market feel as you invest in different colors of varying and shifting values. The OG collectively thinks that Reef Encounter is the most underappreciated game of all time, so if you haven’t tried it out, then add it to your list to track down and see what this classic is all about.

  • Matt: I’m all behind this one, if no other reason than enjoying the game description to a non-gamer.  “OK, you play as a reef, right?  And then you try to bargain for various bit of algae and polyps, hoping to score the occasional lobster….”  Allright, a second soft spot from the game comes from the fact that it was the first game I ever imported from Europe, back when only some of the European games ever made it to this side of the pond.  That also means I get to play on the lovely pastel version.

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Opinionated Gamer Comments

In the Shadow of the Emperor Cover Artwork

Talia Rosen: While my gold medal game (Before the Wind) thankfully made the list, my silver medal game (In the Shadow of the Emperor) and my bronze medal game (Rapa Nui) both sadly missed the cut, as did a couple of my other top choices – Extrablatt and the eBay Electronic Talking Auction Game.  If you want a game like Kreta but more complicated and involved then play In the Shadow of the Emperor, which is a phenomenal 2004 area control game by Ralf Burkert and Hans im Gluck.  The clever aging of your units in this game makes it a tense and engaging affair.  Rapa Nui is a 2011 stock market game by Klaus Jurgen-Wrede of Carcassonne fame that excels as a 40-minute two-player experience.  Extrablatt is Karl Heinz-Schmiel’s oft-overlooked 1991 masterpiece of newspaper layout.  And the eBay Electronic Talking Auction Game is legitimately a solid auction game for three players up there with the likes of Ra.

Jonathan Franklin: If you play Pitch Car or Carabande regularly, you might want a copy of the eBay Electronic Talking Auction Game, as it also works to determine the next player to flick.

Karnag Cover Artwork

Simon Neale: My top choices of Karnag and Rockwell unfortunately didn’t make the cut. Both of these games are early releases from Sit Down Games which has since focussed on lighter family and party style games. Karnag is an unusual worker placement game where the physical location of where you place pieces on the board impact how the game plays out.  Rockwell has a circular board representing a cut through the Earth where players sink mine shafts to extract ores as they journey towards the Earth’s core. My bronze medal of Spyrium made the cut and rightly so. Here is what looks like a simple card tableau game where you place workers to activate/buy adjacent cards. However there is a lot of hidden depth and tactics in Spyrium to keep the most hardened gamer on their toes. 

The King of Frontier Cover Artwork

Joe Huber: With these polls, I have to decide how I want to interpret the goal.  In this case, I decided that any game ranked 5000+ on BGG was underappreciated, and then selected my twenty favorite games to fall into that bucket.  There are a number of games on this list which I enjoy – and two of my all-time favorites – but they didn’t meet my criteria.  The only game which made this list which I voted for was Fast Food Franchise, one of the games I’ve had the pleasure of playing over 100 times – and probably losing over 100 times, too.  Though The King of Frontier just missed the cut, and another game that I think should have a much larger audience than it does – and which is far superior, in my opinion, to the redeveloped version, Skylands.

Battle Beyond Space Cover Artwork

Mark Jackson: A number of my nominees didn’t make it… including Frank Branham’s terrific space opera homage Battle Beyond Space, Heinz Meister’s press-your-luck-fest Nur Peanuts!, and the most maligned of Uwe’s pre-Agricola card games, the wonderfully cruel (and badly named in English) Klunker. I’d also put in plugs for a number of wonderful children’s games I had on my list, including Hallo Dachs, Die Kullerbande, Mole in the Hole, and Konig der Maulwurfel. (Kid games get routinely underrated… which is sad.)

Alan How: This list features some of my favourite games. Or at least ones that I’d be delighted to play anytime soon. Preferable very soon. Reef Encounter is just such a clever game but one that preceded the Key series. I haven’t played in such a while. I remember Phoenicia coming out as it was my first experience of The Gathering but the presentation could not disguise the quality of the game. Before the Wind was a great surprise not just for this list but for me when I first encountered it. I immediately bought more copies for friends as I thought it was a fantastic game that packed a lot in such a small box. Mystery Rummy is my go to game for playing games with my wife. I remember the amazing interest in Patchistory at Essen when it was released. It was beyond hot! But now it’s on the cooling down side of a game’s life. Worth trying every so often. Was Sticht does not belong on this list in my view as it surely must be appreciated, but I suspect it is low in awareness now because of its age. It’s a brilliant design.

Mary Prasad: OK, it has been a while since I’ve contributed to OG (it’s been an especially rough year, as I’m sure it has been for everyone!), but here goes… I’ve enjoyed quite a few of the games on this list, although several are just too confrontational/mean for my tastes (I’m looking at you Diplomacy!). I remember enjoying La Citta – a game that I need to pull out and try again. I’ve enjoyed most of the Mystery Rummy games (aside: the designer is also a wonderfully interesting and nice guy – it is a real treat playing one of his games with him because he gives you the history and stories behind it; I definitely appreciate Mystery Rummy so much more after playing with Mike!). Cheeky Monkey is a light, fun game with cool poker chips. I love to introduce people to this game – it’s great for non-gamers and gamers alike. Ora et Labora is one of my favorite games – it has a lot of the mechanisms I enjoy (engine building, resource management, worker placement). I much prefer it to Le Havre. I also enjoy the top four in this list but Phoenicia would probably be my favorite. Spyrium is one we’ve played a lot online (my husband and I were playing online board games long before it was cool… a couple of friends who lived near us moved to another state long ago; we have been playing with them online every week for well over 10 years!).

Igloo Pop Cover Artwork

Matt Carlson: I’ve left comments on specific games above, but here’s some thoughts on the ones that didn’t make the cut.  First, another shout out (along with Mark) that childrens’ games are far too often underrated.  I highly recommend the chaos that is Igloo Pop.  I didn’t vote for it but “coconut”-flicking monkey game Coconuts is also a great draw.  I could see how some would consider two I rated highly, Hansa Teutonica and In the Year of the Dragon, are not under-appreciated.  I would counter that perhaps they’re not appreciated enough.  Hansa Teutonica has the most angst-ridden turns as to whether to pursue points or improvements.  Meanwhile, I describe In the Year of the Dragon as “Bad stuff happens every round.  Try to minimize all the bad stuff happening to you, in the hopes it will hurt your opponents even worse.”  Hmm, I guess that makes both of them rather angsty.  Am I a gamer equivalent of Goth?  (I do own both the black version of Risk and of King of Tokyo…)

Brian Leet: It is worth mentioning how these lists develop. Generally there is idle chatter among the group which inspires some ambitious individual (Talia in this case) to rise to the challenge of pulling together a post. The initial survey is then populated either by early respondents or the question originator – additional games may be listed as people give their responses. We can all go back and adjust our votes as much as we want, but the reality is that I’m not sure that those who respond early always go back at the end to check – I certainly know I don’t. 

I mention this to reinforce that there is no overarching rule on what games might be picked, or even which games might come to mind, and certainly no rules about the criteria used in consideration. It is a true free-for-all. That’s a lot of words to say I have no idea how some of the games I would have thought already well-regarded ended up on this list. As to my own procedure – I  selected those which had the largest delta between my ranking and the BGG rank for my top 100 games.

Medici vs Strozzi Cover Artwork

Larry Levy:  There’s a reasonably close alignment with my picks and the overall list, which surprises me a bit.  I only voted for 10 games–my tastes aren’t that far off the mainstream, or at least what used to be the mainstream, so I don’t have tons of games I feel are grossly underappreciated.  Five of those were included in the group’s top 7 games:  the four I commented on, plus Lowenherz, for which I felt Talia said everything I would have said.  There are plenty of other games on the list I like, but which I feel are reasonably well regarded.  My top 5, by the way, are Stephenson’s, Phoenicia, Medici vs. Strozzi (an extremely underappreciated game, in my opinion, as I view it as Knizia’s last great design), Spyrium, and Wallace’s Automobile.  I’m particularly gratified to see Spyrium do so well in the poll, as I think it’s a terrific game that, despite the fame of its designer, simply isn’t that well known.

Methodology: Each voter picked up to 20 games, giving 20 points to their top choice (gold medal), followed by 19 points to their second choice (silver medal), 18 points to their third choice (bronze medal), 17 points to their fourth choice, and so on.  Voters were allowed to select any 20 games that they wanted (which resulted in 111 different games getting votes).  The points from all 16 voters were added together to come up with the ranking above.

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6 Responses to Top 20 Most Underappreciated Games

  1. Alicia says:

    Reef Encounter is excellent! I think a better rulebook or more review coverage/video tutorials could have helped it be a bigger hit.

  2. Jacob Lee says:

    I enjoyed reading this article, but I also had a hard time reading it because I’ve owned half of these games. I parted with them because I didn’t think they were better than other ones I acquired. They may be underappreciated, but I think that is the case with most games that are this old. They will be underappreciated today. But if they were underappreciated in their time I could not say. The only game on this list I still own is Brew Crafters because I love it.
    The ones that intrigue me are: Was Sticht, Patchistory and Before the Wind. Anyone who knows The Crew and still calls Was Sticht the best trick-taking game ever . . . I gotta check it out. I didn’t buy Patchistory when it first came out because it was too pricey for a game I’d be able to play often because of the length. And I’ve always wanted to play Before the Wind, but never could find a trade for it until I gave up and forgot about it. I like it when articles remind me of these moments.

    • huzonfirst says:

      Jacob, some of the games were very much appreciated in their time, but have become somewhat forgotten. Reef Encounter is a good example; it was quite celebrated when it came out, but a lot of newer gamers have probably never heard of it. However, quite a few of these titles were unappreciated even when they were first published, including Spyrium, Lowenherz (which, paradoxically, became famous for being underrated), Phoenicia, and Stephenson’s. So something of a mix.

      Was Sticht is great and well worth checking out. The Crew is very good, but the fact that it’s cooperative means that it has a different feel than almost every other trick-taker. Naturally, the *greatest* trick-taking game is Bridge, but I don’t expect everyone to tackle that monster, so I have no problem ranking Was Sticht among the best ever.

      If you have a group that likes longer games with an epic feel, I highly recommend picking up Patchistory. It’s not for everyone and the fact that both Talia and I, who love it, haven’t managed to play it for some time may be telling, but it has a unique feel and does some things really well (the patching gives you so much angst and is so much fun).

      As for Before the Wind, I guess it’s okay if you can get around the flatulence jokes (let’s just say it’s not the best named game in the world). I think it’s just decent, but Talia and a few of the others clearly love it, so give it a shot.

  3. Greg Aleknevicus says:

    It’s a little eyebrow-raising to call Diplomacy underappreciated but…

    I agree with RJ that when playing face-to-face, a large house that can accommodate private discussion is essential, but that’s not the best way to play. The best way to play is to completely separate the players. In days past, this meant playing by mail, today there are any number of ways to accomplish this. You can even do so in “real-time” but I don’t recommend that either. The best games I ever played had weekly turns and this was fantastic! The advantage this has over face-to-face playings is that you don’t know who’s talking to whom and this raises the level of suspicion and worry to unprecedented heights. If you like Diplomacy, but haven’t played it this way, I encourage you to give it a try.

    Stephensons Rocket — yep, Knizia’s masterpiece. As mentioned, the veto action is critical but a hard one for new players to grasp. The trick is to recognize when the active player really wants to go one direction and have him/her make a tough decision — go where they want, or maintain their stock holdings?

    La Citta is very good, although I maintain that the Migration/Feeding phases should be reversed. The game remains ever bit as challenging but reduces the number of times you must re-calculate your situation from every time your opponents build anything to the start of each round — a considerable reduction.

    • huzonfirst says:

      One time when we played Diplomacy via email communications, we didn’t even know who was playing each country! I knew I was working out an alliance with England, but I had no idea which of the players I was talking to. Since we all knew each other very well, that really added a fun mystique to things. Based on how aggressive (or not) certain countries were, we all made assumptions about who was who, but at the end of the game, many of us were very surprised to find the actual identities of the players! I’m not saying that’s the best way to play, but it certainly was a fun experiment for us that one time.

  4. Yoki Erdtman says:

    My top 20 underrated games according to BoardGameGeek are as follows:

    1. Champions of the Galaxy
    2. Way of the Fighter (both sets)
    3. Exceed: Seventh Cross (all sets)
    4. Lost Legacy (all versions)
    5. Kaosball: The Fantasy Sport of Total Domination
    6. Myth
    7. Grand Cru
    8. Greenland
    9. Bios: Genesis
    10. Gaslands: Post-Apocalyptic Vehicular Combat
    11. Impulse
    12. Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations
    13. 2 de Mayo
    14. Bios: Megafauna
    15. Krosmaster: Arena
    16. Warfighter: The Tactical Special Forces Card Game
    17. Innovation
    18. 51st State
    19. Neanderthal
    20. Galaxy Defenders

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