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Small, Short, Underrated Games
Jeff M
United States
Bethesda
Maryland
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The key to the treasure is the treasure.
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There's something about a big box and a long-playing time that demands attention. But just because a game is modest doesn't mean it's not great fun. In this list, I've attempted to highlight some small games that I feel are given undeservedly short shrift. I enjoy them all, and I'll explain why.

Feel free to add your own.
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1. Board Game: Fiasko [Average Rating:6.03 Overall Rank:6961]
Jeff M
United States
Bethesda
Maryland
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The key to the treasure is the treasure.
I'll start the list off with this hidden gem that hasn't even hit 30 ratings.

Fiasko is a push-your-luck filler themed around groceries. Ok, admittedly it doesn't have the most enthralling theme, but its graphic design and approachable content make for a fun family treat.

On your turn, you have only one choice -- draw a card or score your hand. But this choice is filled with pleasant angst; the next card could skyrocket your score or force you to discard your hand entirely. What makes Fiasko so fun -- and different from other push-your-luck fillers -- is the way in which the competition is managed. You can only score once for each good, but the game ends whenever anyone scores all five goods. This mechanism creates a steady forward propulsion that forces you to keep pace with the other players. Move too quickly and you'll be outscored. Move too slowly, and someone will burst ahead before you've had a chance to score enough goods.

Because of this, the game becomes one of carefully assessing and reading the other players. It's best in its two-player incarnation, when you can effectively watch and quickly respond to whatever the other player is doing. Definitely worth a look.
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2. Board Game: Kupferkessel Co. [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:950]
Jeff M
United States
Bethesda
Maryland
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In one sense, Kupferkessel Co. isn't underrated. It was nominated for the SdJ and has a significant core of fans.

But in another sense, it definitely is. No publisher has thought it worthy enough to bring to the English-speaking market. And in comparison to similar games, such as Lost Cities, it just doesn't get the love.

I think a large part of this disjunct is the fact that Kupferkessel Co. is advertised as a game of memory, and lots of folks just don't want to play a game that depends on memory. Moreover, if you read the rules to the game, it looks very mechanical: move pawn three spaces along grid, take card, move pawn two spaces along grid, take card, add up points.

But, in practice, the game is neither very memory-straining nor very mechanical. Rather, it plays much more like a light set collection game in the vein of Lost Cities. This is because the most common strategic question you are asking on a turn is whether to start a new set or build on an existing set. And your choice is often heavily dependent on what the other player(s) are collecting.

Simple rules, simple choices, and lots of considerations to take into account every turn. Great fun.
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3. Board Game: Familienbande [Average Rating:6.33 Overall Rank:2337]
Jeff M
United States
Bethesda
Maryland
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The key to the treasure is the treasure.
Familienbande gets an unecessarily bad rap. It goes like this: the game is filled with luck and you have no control over your hand. Plus, the scoreboard stinks.

To me, however, Familienbande is a joy to play, and has actually gotten more play than just about any other game in my collection. There are a few reasons for this.

First, the game's mechanics beautifully implement the theme. You can see generations growing, and the artist has somehow managed to create individuals who all look distinctively different, and yet share uncanny family resemblances.

Second, the game requires an interesting mix of hand-management, sacrifice, and psychology. You must keep your hand size low, and yet have enough resources to build generations. You must decide when to sacrifice valuable cards to build a foundation for point gains down the line. And you must bluff and analyze to keep your hidden trait hidden for as long as possible while attempting to discern the other players' traits.

Third, the game has significant appeal to my wife. I think this is largely because the theme is accessible and the overall feel of the game is one of building a structure together. This factor alone explains why I've played it often.

I should note, however, that the only way we play is with a draw pool of three. I think this variant addresses the concerns expressed about excessive luck. This variant also increases decision-making, adds an additional way to bluff, and speeds the end-game.

I agree the scoreboard is messed up. The pawns barely fit on the spaces provided. While this generally isn't a problem, I wouldn't use the board when a toddler or pet is around to bump the table.
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4. Board Game: Mole Hill [Average Rating:5.95 Overall Rank:5432]
Jeff M
United States
Bethesda
Maryland
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The key to the treasure is the treasure.
It's hard to claim that any Knizia game is really overlooked. And yet, the next few games on this list do seem underrated to me.

Mole Hill is a perfect example. It's an abstract, and yet it is one of Knizia's finest matches between mechanics and theme. One player scoots around the board trying to dig up flowers, while the other attempts to fence the other player in.

It seems like capturing the mole should be a simple task. But it's not, and it requires a few games to develop strategies for escaping and capturing. For an assymetrical abstract, both sides seem to be in fine equipoise.

I'm not sure I could play this game forever, but it's certainly lasted a lot longer than I thought it would. In fact, in one recent session, I played 6-7 consecutive games of this with a friend, and neither of us could develop a solid way to win. Simple and elusive. But it appears I'm among the few that believe so.

My one gripe about this game is that the flowers shouldn't have been locked down on the board. The replayability of the game would have been vastly expanded if the flowers could be repositioned.
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5. Board Game: Bucket Brigade [Average Rating:6.12 Overall Rank:3038]
Jeff M
United States
Bethesda
Maryland
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The key to the treasure is the treasure.
Another underrated Knizia is Honeybears. This game has provoked a curious response among the BGG community because it has a small group of hardcore fans who have gone against the grain of opinion and touted it widely.

I'd tend to agree with Honeybears' fans. There's a deeper game in here than at first sight, and what appears to be a game of numbers is in fact a game of signalling, bluffing, and joint ventures. You must cooperate with other players in order to push your bear ahead, and yet you don't want to be the player that has spent all of your cards when that bear succeeds.

What Honeybears requires is a delicate sense of when to push and when to recede. A nice psychological balance in a tight package.
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6. Board Game: Circus Flohcati [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:1163]
Jeff M
United States
Bethesda
Maryland
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The key to the treasure is the treasure.
Like Fiasko, Circus Flohcati is a push-your-luck filler. Some say there's not much to this game. But as with Fiasko, there's something special here that triggers the fun nerves to fire. Because of this something, it's a game I often bring with me when I might play a card game with non-gamers.

What I like in particular about Circus Flohcati is that you have a limited decision pool on each turn, but the simple decision-process is rife with considerations. Every turn requires balancing risk against risk, small gains against large gains, and the current options against what's left in the deck. There's just a high density of decision-making packed into a very small set of options.

Moreover, for a dig-through-the-deck game, it's fairly interactive because there's a shared pool of cards to draw from, and it's relatively important to have a sense of what goals other players are pursuing. And the game moves really, really fast.

For this reason, I've generally had excellent success playing this game with any group, regardless of their age or attention span.
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7. Board Game: Razzia! [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:812]
Jeff M
United States
Bethesda
Maryland
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The key to the treasure is the treasure.
Razzia!, being a remake of Ra, isn't really underrated in the traditional sense, and yet I think it is underrated when compared to Ra. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I prefer Razzia! to Ra.

First, the mafia theming in Razzia!, while not perfect, makes far more sense than the bizarre and disconnected Egyptian theming of Ra. I can understand collecting trinkets and cars, I can't understand collecting things like floods.

Second, the slightly shorter playing length is perfect for a light game like this.

Third, cards are better-suited to the design than tiles. They are pulled, mixed, and shifted more easily.

Fourth, the box is smaller, making the game more portable and easier to fit on the shelf.

And fifth, the presentation makes it easier to introduce to non-gamers. Cartoony, humorous graphics fit the feel of the game better than the serious Egyptian design of the original.

I agree that the lack of poison pill tiles is a loss, but not enough to outweigh the other advantages of Razzia!
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8. Board Game: Le Mur de Pise [Average Rating:6.35 Overall Rank:6913]
Jeff M
United States
Bethesda
Maryland
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The key to the treasure is the treasure.
I'll end where I began -- with an unrated game. Le Mur de Pise is a simple dexterity block-stacking game. But what distinguishes it is its size and price. You get the same pleasant stacking gameplay as much bigger games in a small, cheap package.

And the blocks are great. They're nicely stained and smooth to the touch, a pleasure to play with and stack.

Games are short, quick, and involve mild placement strategy.

If you want a stacking game to round out your collection, but don't want a big expensive game, I think of anything that hits the mark better. The very features that probably have led this game to obscurity (its size and speed) are the very features that I think make it remarkable.
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9. Board Game: Knights of Charlemagne [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:2203]

Lacombe
Louisiana
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Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.
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This game is another 2-player Knizia card game (a la Lost Cities, Battle Line, etc) with tense tactical decision-making at every turn. As a bonus, it plays 3 just as well (if not better) than it plays 2.

There is no math (well, you have to count), which is a bonus for those who don't like the constant adding, subtracting, and multiplying of Lost Cities. This also makes it easier to introduce to non-gamers.

I'm not sure why this one isn't ranked higher, seeing as it offers pretty much all the tension and replayability of Lost Cities with the added bonus of being non-mathematical and playing 3 players equally well.
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10. Board Game: Light Speed [Average Rating:6.37 Overall Rank:1690]
Michel Boucher
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
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Two minutes to lay out the cards (for beginners...one for experienced players) and maybe as much as ten minutes to resolve laser fire.

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11. Board Game: Landlord! [Average Rating:5.89 Overall Rank:3321]
Tim Mossman
United States
Gaithersburg
Maryland
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We've enjoyed playing this game with 2 to 4 people. The mechanic to use both sides of the cards is very clever - forces some interesting decisions. Most of our games have been pretty tight. Gameplay is fairly dynamic, a bit confrontational and your fortunes are somewhat dependent of drawing a decent mix of cards (e.g., you can get stuck on a turn if you don't have a roof in hand); however, for shorter / lighter games, that mix works for me.

I have seen some User comments that the artwork in the first edition may have been of suspect taste and soured their experience. We own the "cleaned up" second edition; however, others' comments have made me curious to see what was so bad in the first edition.
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12. Board Game: Hula Hippos [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:2961]
United States
Lexington
Kentucky
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This is a very quick, very tense game. At the end, when several players have a small number of mice left, you can cut the tension with a knife as the hoop settles.
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13. Board Game: Bakerstreet [Average Rating:5.56 Overall Rank:8662]
Greg Williams
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
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This is a 2 player bluffing & memory card game that my wife and I have really found to be quite a bit of fun, despite its low rank. The first game or two we were still focussed on figuring out all the rule details, but once we both knew how the game worked, the fun-level improved a lot. When choosing a light 2 player game to play, my wife picks Bakerstreet more often than Lost Cities.

Bakerstreet plays quickly, is not too straining after a long day, and there is a nice catch-up mechanic built into the design where the player who wins the bidding challenges usually gets to pick an evidence card, but also slightly weakens their position for the next challenge. The memory part of the game is definitely a factor - but there's enough luck that the player with the better memory / bluffing instincts will not always win.

Many comments of folks who rate this low complain about 'lack of theme', but I think the artwork is pretty nice and evokes the right feeling of trying to find the bits of evidence you need. I think the game winning condition of getting a sequence of evidence cards is a very good idea - and fits the theme much better than 'victory points' would have. As an aside, I think I read that the designer, Marcel-André Merkle, originally intended the evidence cards to have some text to describe the evidence in a way that a completed set would tell a little story, instead of letters and images - but Ravensburger opted for a multi-lingual version. Too bad.

Anyway, its a good enough game that Mike Fitzgerald rated it 8/10 - and I think he knows a thing or two about fun card games. Its not my favourite, but I do like this small, short, underrated game.
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14. Board Game: Loot [Average Rating:6.32 Overall Rank:1305]
All your base are belong to us
Canada
Montreal
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The artwork for the re-print (shown on picture) is deceptively childish. Loot -also known as Korsar- is a great, simple and quick game of card. Backstabbing, thievery and shivering timbers for all!
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15. Board Game: Clocktowers [Average Rating:5.71 Overall Rank:5434]
Nello Cozzolino
United Kingdom
London
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A.Moon is the designer
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16. Board Game: Money! [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:1023]
Mike Marmont
United States
Huntington Beach
California
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A great little Knizia game that doesn't require a lot of space or time to play.
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17. Board Game: Pico 2 [Average Rating:5.91 Overall Rank:4725]
Ilmann Choe
South Korea
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Pico & Pico 2, the 7th game of Doris & Frank, is the smallest & shortest card game, as far as I know.

It consists of 11 cards, each of which has a number and VP. For 2 players. (Pico 2 changed some numbers on cards of Pico)

5 cards are dealt to each player, a remaining card are put open.
After playing one round, player exchanges their hand and play another round. So there is no luck, it is only full of interesting and subtle psychological factor.

One round consist of:

1) Each player simultaneously plays a card. Card with higher number wins, UNLESS-it is the point of this game-lower number is less than half of the higher number. In that case, card with lower number wins!

It is what makes this game so interesting. Choosing a card to play is tense. Sometimes there is obvious choice, but usually not. You should outguess your opponent, and sometimes bluffing is needed.

2) If your card won, put your card aside. If your card lose, get it back to your hand. This is another interesting point, because it makes winner lose her/his resource and narrows winner's range of choices.

3) Go back to 1), until you or your opponents has put all the cards aside and has no card to play.

4) Add up VPs on cards you put aside; it is your score.

This game last only a few minutes, but its gameplay is tense with tough and interesting choices.

In addition, these cards are full of Doris' lovely illustrated hedgehogs!
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18. Board Game: Skallywaggs [Average Rating:5.87 Overall Rank:6118]
Jason Maxwell
United States
Arvada
Colorado
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With one rule change I think this game is a good light filler. You are supposed to announce when you have enough pirates to set sail at the end of your turn, then the rest of the players have a turn to knock you down to prevent you from winning. This could lead to some long games. If you take that out its fun filler.
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19. Board Game: Dungeoneer: Realm of the Ice Witch [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:2775]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
Chelmsford
Essex
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Let me start by saying what's not good about the Dungeoneer series: the rules. Atlas is up to version 2.3 and they're still a mess. My advice, upsetting to Designer is God purists, is to read the rules, check the optional rules (particularly those designed to reduce the luck of the map card draw)and then to play the game as you think it ought to be played.

You may find a fun, quick and nicely thematic dungeon/wilderness crawling game in a remarkably small package. I particularly like the system whereby glory and peril are earned for entering each new location. Glory can be spent on allies and magic items, while your peril can be spent by others to attack you with monsters and other bad things.
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20. Board Game: Dragon's Gold [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:1167]
Chuck Dudschus
United States
Logan
Utah
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This is a fast fun way under rated game we play it alot, good fast filler.

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21. Board Game: Wizard [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:1984]
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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What, no microgames?

The dynamic duo of Wizard and Melee give you a toolkit for quickly throwing together a character (with or without spells), tossing him into the arena, and duking it out with your opponents. A great lunch hour game.
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22. Board Game: Canal Grande [Average Rating:6.43 Overall Rank:2179]
Huzonfirst
United States
Manassas
Virginia
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The women's national team pulls off a stunning victory at the World Cup! U-S-A!!!
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Just as Moon and Weissblum designed Clocktowers as the Capitol cardgame, this little gem is the San Marco cardgame and it's almost as good as the boardgame. Manages to squeeze the wonderful pie-splitting mechanic into a two-player game that holds your interest and gives you consistently tough and tense decisions. The artwork is horrid (one of the worst physical designs I've ever seen), but the game is great.
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23. Board Game: Bongo! [Average Rating:6.09 Overall Rank:3348]
Luis Paulino Mora Lizano
Costa Rica
Asunción de Belén
Heredia
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Fast thinking game, similar to Du Balai! Players try to be the first to solve a colective puzzle made out of dice. Nice pick if you like this kind of games, in which almost there are no other examples.
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24. Board Game: Terra [Average Rating:5.71 Overall Rank:5593]
Luis Paulino Mora Lizano
Costa Rica
Asunción de Belén
Heredia
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Excelent adaptation of the prisoner's dilemma in a game. Players have resources and they have to use them either in their own profit or solving common problems. If there are a number of unsolved common problems the world collapses and nobady wins. The right combination of selfish gaming and fair play will give you the victory. I have to admit that this game surprised me; it was a lot better than I though just from reading the rules.
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25. Board Game: La meva col·lecció [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
Luis Paulino Mora Lizano
Costa Rica
Asunción de Belén
Heredia
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As in Modern Art, there are art auctions in this game. But even when you can get some pieces at a good price, there are some conditions that have to be achieved to be able to put them in your gallery and finish it. That's why some times you'll have to forget about the pieces values and get those ones that will fit in your gallery before someone else finishes his/her own.
 
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