4: Hidden Gems

4: Hidden Gems

What game do you consider to an exemplar of game design that is not widely known? What makes it so good?

 

My choice is Adios Calavera, a gorgeous Mexican day of the dead-themed two-player abstract by Martin Schlegel (from Mücke Spiel). The design starts with chess – two players facing off across a board of squares, with pieces that moves differently. But instead of sitting opposite each other, the players sit at right angles. The standard movement of a piece is decided by the number of pieces currently in its row, making it different from each side of the table. Also, each piece has a special ability but can be flipped to be used as a basic pawn, adding asymmetry and replayability.

Chris Marling

Sherlock: Last call based on the Q system series. This is a minimalist investigation case that involves up to 8 players with just 32 cards. It condenses investigation dynamics plus information management and deduction extremely well. With this few amount of cards, the plot is complex enough to drive the investigators to several theories. This enriches the discussions among the course of the game, specially at the case resolution. Its mechanics are very simple, totally accessible, so they can be learnt as you play.

Eloi Pujadas

Xanadu designed by Javier Velásquez and published by Quined Games is an amazing game for packing a heavy euro into a small card game. There are only cards and tokens, but the depth of strategy is staggering because the cards are multi-use. This is a worker placement, resource management game with a high level of player interaction. Placing a worker (card back) on a building (card front) generates resources to build buildings. There’s a balance to placing workers, but not too many to devalue the building, which you need to sell at the right time to make the most money.

Sarah Reed

Maria is an amazing piece of design. It is mostly a war game but it uses a simple deck of cards of 1-10 in 4 suits and jokers to run the whole game. The cards are used to enhance your armies, each suit different pieces of the board, but they are also used to pass laws that change the state of the game.
Just elegant.

Pini Shekhter

Space Park by Keymaster Games (2018). The action selection system uses 3 neutral rockets moving clockwise around a board with 7 spaces (actions). Because the rockets are neutral you can activate any of them on your turn, but once activated they move to the next empty location. It’s light, fast paced, and easy to learn. I find it enjoyable to teach and play as the decisions are usually quick, small enough that I don’t have to think too hard, but with enough depth that I’m not bored.

Sye Robertson

Sherlock: Last Call: With this few amount of cards, the plot is complex enough to drive the investigators to several theories. This enriches the discussions among the course of the game, specially at the case resolution. Its mechanics are very simple, totally accessible, so they can be learnt as you play. — Eloi Pujadas

Let me speak about MANA, a pure 2 player game designed by Claude Leroy. You learn the rules in less than 1 minute. It’s elegant, deep, fast to play. And even if it’s an abstract game, there is a kind of poetry inside it. Really clever!

Bruno Cathala

Survive: Escape from Atlantis is a brilliant design. It’s beautifully thematically and mechanically integrated from goal to player choices and gameplay to the art. It really captures (I assume) the dangers of escaping from an island through monster-infested waters before a volcano explodes and blows everything to bits. It can accomodate different styles of play from cooperative to competitive, strategic to tactical, and devouring an opponent’s meeple with a sea-monster is just so satisfying. The design is tight – remove something, and it won’t work as well. It’s not necessarily unknown, but I think it deserves more appreciation as a great design.

Kathleen Mercury

I’m not sure there ARE any exemplar games still relatively unknown; given the amount of content being provided nowadays, we are close to all of the ‘talking points’ having been exhausted, no? I’m an admirer of classics that seem to have been forgotten in the blizzard of cardboard that is today’s market: Goa, Glory To Rome, Kingdom Builder (for the sheer ridiculousness of ‘play your one card then draw one card to replace it’). And Samurai Swords (Ikusa) for taking Risk and making it several magnitudes better and more strategic. And Skyrealms of Jorune for being plain weird.

Tony Boydell

I’m going with Loot (aka Korsar), designed back in 1992 by the Good Doctor himself (Reiner Knizia). It’s not exactly hidden (ranked 1,737 on BGG with 5.4k ratings), but it doesn’t get near the love it deserves. Interaction is at the heart of this wonderfully simple little card game, as it puts all the burden on the players to ensure that everyone gets their fair share (or doesn’t!). Can’t recommend it enough, especially in the partners variant.

Trevor Benjamin

Survive: Escape from Atlantis: It can accomodate different styles of play from cooperative to competitive, strategic to tactical, and devouring an opponent’s meeple with a sea-monster is just so satisfying. — Kathleen Mercury

I consider Néstor Romeral Andrés’ TAIJI to be a a bit of a minimalist masterpiece. It is a simple abstract where both players use the same piece – a domino that is half black and half white – to create areas of their colour. It is the simplest implementation I can imagine of the tile-placement area building that is seen in so many strategy games. It is also a fascinating study in having to help your opponent as well as yourself on every turn. For designers interested in stripping back mechanisms to their absolute core, TAIJI deserves to be played.

Phil Walker-Harding

Cursed Court, by Andrew Hanson. It was published last year and went totally unnoticed. Very few games manage to generate the same kind of tension one can get in gambling games without involving real money – this one does.

Bruno Faidutti

To answer your question in my context, I would say Pandemic (the only popular collaborative game we (NIBCARD Games) know, which is not widely known in Nigeria. And we believe people need to know that there is something such as a collaborative game and that games aren’t just about competing against other players but can also be about sharing resources and prioritising which collective action to take as a team.

Kenechukwu Ogbuagu KC

Populist answer: Junta. That mechanic where the president has to choose what to pay those around him, sometimes being forced to pay out more than even you’re going to get yourself – and you’re the damn president! – to people you don’t even trust, and who will betray you anyway, just to keep them happy for at least one more round… That’s a beautiful moment.
Wannabe intellectual answer: Guy Debord’s Game of War. The founder of the Situationists considered this lesser-known work his greatest achievement and people still find hidden applications and interpretations through playing it. It certainly has depths and the ‘rulebook’ alone is a fascinating read.

Andrew Sheerin

Lords of Vegas by James Ernest and Mike Selinker. It’s well regarded and rated highly on BGG, but so few people seem to have actually played it! While there’s a lot of luck in the game – after all, it’s set in Las Vegas – it’s a wonderful example of how to mix a euro with just enough randomness. I love how it builds to those incredible stand-up moments where you know you could take it all with a great dice roll… then tempers it with the question of should you risk it all? Go play it. Now.

Michael Fox

Lords of Vegas: I love how it builds to those incredible stand-up moments where you know you could take it all with a great dice roll… then tempers it with the question of should you risk it all? — Michael Fox

Dominique Bodin’s Witness is a game for exactly four people, whereby players are each given a small piece of information. They then must whisper facts to each other, gradually amassing a full picture of a crime scene. The ingenuity of the concept impressed me; the unusual component design and unique gameplay draws me to the game. But the thing which makes it exceptional is the sense of play. Chinese Whispers, or Telephone, are well loved folk games played all over the world. Witness takes something familiar and accessible, and turns it into something much deeper.

Adam Porter

I’m going to go with Egizia, the 2009 game published in the US by Rio Grande. The time track for card drafting and action selection/worker placement introduces many interesting decisions for the players. Strategy building is paramount. This game gives players lots of opportunities to feel clever as well as second chances if their strategy didn’t play out. The theme goes well too, moving down the Nile, you can’t go backwards to pick up what you missed, viola the time element. BGG.com lists the designers as Acchittocca, Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, Stefano Luperto, and Antonio Tinto.

Adrienne Ezell

A 2013 Spiel des Jahres Nominee, Qwixx is a roll and write game designed by Steffen Benndorf. A masterclass in streamlined game design, it takes less than two minutes to explain and about 10-15 minutes to play, with all of the components combining to give the players a fun, meaningful, and memorable encounter. It has quickly become one of the most powerful gateway games in my collection, and its surprising strategic depth is a fantastic example of how games don’t need to have a high ‘complexity rating’ in order to be clever.

Sam Illingworth

I’ll go for Dungeon Fighter which is one of my most favourite board games ever. It’s a perfect combination of skill and strategy. Most people don’t take a look at it because it seems crazy…and it is, but it’s also a carefully and perfectly designed game.

Théo Rivière

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