Europhile Reviews: My top thirty "little" games - December 2014
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There are a great many "Top games" lists floating around at the moment - many on video from the big game reviewers.

I have noticed that the smaller card and dice games rarely get a look in! They can't compete against the meaty gameplay of a big-box deck-builder or dungeon-crawl, or a deeply strategic Euro. Yet, they offer some of the cleanest, simplest, most accessible game designs out there.

So this list celebrates "little" games.

To feature on this list, the games must fit the following criteria:

1. They must be no longer than 30-40 mins in duration.
2. They must play well with small player counts (fewer than 4 players).
3. They must be very simple to learn.
4. They must be easily slipped into a rucksack, or even better: a pocket!

Many of these games are only available in Germany/Europe. I tend to buy a lot from the German Amazon site - postage to the UK is minimal and the games are cheaper than the UK equivalents anyway, so it all cancels out. English rules are usually available on BGG.

For more Europhile reviews:

http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/146115/europhile-reviews-a
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1. Board Game: Haggis [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:685]
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This list features a number of trick-taking games. These are the perfect quick card-games. They share enough similar rules to make them easy to learn (usually you just have to teach the differences: "It's just like Hearts except…") and they provide a good variety of difficult choices. The basic ruleset of a trick-taking game allows for numerous tweaks and modifications by clever designers, making each title feel very different. There is a great degree of luck in these games, and they are often about making the most of what you're given.

Haggis is a "climbing game". This is a rarer cousin to the trick-taking titles. Perhaps Tichu is the most famous, but that title needs four players and relies on partnerships. Frank's Zoo is a simpler game in the genre, and features later on this list.

Haggis plays brilliantly with 2 or 3 players (it cannot be played with higher counts). A 2 player trick-taking game is rare, so that is enough to make it essential in my collection. But there's more to this game than filling a niche. The card design looks classy. The scoring is cleverly handled. There is a nice betting/push-your-luck element included. It is a fantastic experience.

Haggis is one of the more complex games on the list, but any competent card-player should be able to pick it up pretty easily and it's well worth the effort.
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2. Board Game: Baby Boom [Average Rating:5.88 Overall Rank:11313]
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This list is full of dice games-chucking games. Baby Boom is set apart, because the dice aren't ever rolled (except in one of the variant rule-sets). In Baby Boom, the dice are bombs with a count-down from five to zero. As the bombs are moved around a tiny grid, they move ever closer to zero, turning down one notch with each move. At zero, they explode and destroy all the other bombs in that row and column. Hence the game has a delightful "build" to it. It starts slow and methodical with a chess-like hush and culminates in players being eliminated one after the other as the series of explosions goes off.

This is really an abstract strategy game and it's the only one on my list (I came close to including Hive). The game has a short duration but the simple ruleset allows for many difficult choices.

I received the game for free when I purchased some other titles, and I suspect it is very hard to find now, but it is worth seeking out. It's a tremendous design.
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3. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:260]
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I love heavy economic games (especially auctions and stock-markets) but of course they wouldn't make this list of "little games". For Sale reduces economic gaming to its absolute basics. What we have here is two very simple auction mechanics. And that's it. Well, that and a beautiful set of cards. It works brilliantly with non-gamers because the ruleset is so simple, but the economic aspects ensure that it will appeal to gamers too. It plays as well with 3 players as it does with 6, and all in a small box. If someone could produce a stock-market game with the same small footprint, I'd be very excited.

I almost included Friese's whimsical Friesematenten on the list, which is almost entirely auction based and comes in a tiny card-box. But Friese's game takes much longer and the ruleset is more convoluted (it plays like "Power Grid: the card game" with power station cards generating income, and a constant flow of auctions). Ultimately, despite its portability, it doesn't quite feel as "little" as For Sale, in terms of duration and complexity. So it didn't make the cut. Friese needn't worry: several of his games are coming up!
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4. Board Game: Sushi Go! [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:343]
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If you thought 7 Wonders reduced card-drafting to its most basic form, you'll be surprised by Sushi Go. This is a VERY simple card-drafting game whereby players pass their hand of cards to their neighbour, taking one each time for themselves and forming sets. The sets of cards score in a variety of ways. The game is so easy to teach, you can play it with anybody. It's quick, fun, and the theme makes more sense than any other drafting game I've come across: Sushi is served on a conveyor belt right; monuments are not.

There are currently three editions with different (but all very good) artwork. I love the original the best, but I'm a big Zoch Verlag fan, so I've bought their gross edition too (full of melting faces and very unappetising sushi rolls). All play identically.
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5. Board Game: Stich-Meister [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:3015]
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This is a trick-taking game with ever changing rules. As such, it is ridiculous! Each round players choose a new rule card from a deck, and the rules are combined to create the ruleset for the current round. Much of the fun is in working out how to make sense of the ludicrous combinations and contradictions the rules cards throw up. It is not a game to be taken seriously - it is a game to laugh riotously over. Yet it is a serious design: this could be marketed as a trick-taking design tool. You could select the a rule set you particularly enjoy and play it over and over.

The game is only in German and there is a lot of text. But there are paste-ups available on BGG and it's worth the effort if you're a trick-taking fan.

This is the first of many Friedemann Friese games on this list. Most well known for his big-box masterpiece, Power Grid, Friese is a prolific designer of innovative card games. This is one such example.
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6. Board Game: Pick-a-Dog [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:2954]
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Pick-a-Dog is the first of three speed games on this list. The others are Ghost Blitz and Speed Cups. This really is the holy trinity of speed games in my view.

Pick-a-Dog is the best of the bunch. Why? Well, these games rely on players making silly mistakes due to the rapid nature of the gameplay. In speed games, players are grabbing items from the table attempting to be quicker than other players. But they must grab the correct item. In Ghost Blitz, players will often confidently grab the wrong item and then groan when they realise what they have done (and lose points accordingly). This creates a lot of laughs. Where Pick-a-Dog excels is that it delays the "reveal". At the end of each round, each player shows their opponents the pile of cards they have grabbed. There is nothing more satisfying than calling out an over-confident player when you spot a mistake that they had missed. These delayed laughs are often bigger than the instant gratification you get in Ghost Blitz. The third member of this select group, Speed Cups, is an altogether simpler affair. The laughs aren't as big, but it's much more straightforward to throw yourself into.

Mixing Pick-a-Dog with its non-identical twin, Pick-a Pig, allows for eight players and even more difficult gameplay. Indeed with this combined set, I've managed to get 10 players frantically playing this game at once and it's worked well.
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7. Board Game: Lost Cities [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:292]
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This is a two-player only classic. The cards look great, the gameplay is simple. The most difficult thing about it is the scoring, which requires a pen and paper and a little bit of simple maths. It feels very much like a traditional card-game, but the enhanced visuals lift it a lot. There is a good reason why this is the first game people often suggest when asked to recommend a game for couples.

The other great 2-player couples' games featured on this list are Battle Line and Jaipur. There is not much to choose between them in terms of quality, but Lost Cities suits me best.
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8. Board Game: Famiglia [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:1442]
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This is another two-player only game. It doesn't rival Lost Cities, Jaipur, or Battle Line as a couples' game because it's far less intuitive, the strategies are harder to pick up, and the theme is not family-friendly. It's another experimental design from Friedemann Friese, here once again incorporating his deck-stacking mechanic whereby the most powerful cards are removed from the game each round, only to re-appear in the late game (the same happens in many of his games e.g. Power Grid, Friese's Landlord, Friesematenten.

For a player who is prepared for some unusual mechanics and a ruleset which is not silky smooth, there is a lot of tactical manoeuvring in this game. The artwork is great, as always in Friese games, and it's a brilliant 2 player title when playing with experienced gamers.
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9. Board Game: Pala [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:4615]
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Another trick-taker - this one features a BRILLIANT idea and it makes it onto the list on that basis alone. It may not be the simplest trick-taking game, or even the most fun, but it has the most innovative central mechanic I've seen in the genre.

In many trick-taking games, the randomness of the card-draw is mitigated by having players score points by correctly assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their hands. This process is oddly called "bidding" not to be confused with the process which happens in a auction. In Pala, players bid based on how many tricks they think they will score of a specific colour: so far this is a fairly generic ruleset. The twist is that players can blend colours. Hence a mix of the primary colours blue and yellow is equivalent to the secondary colour green. This allows players to play multiple cards on a single turn to increase the strength of their cards, or even to alter the colour of the suit led, by "smudging": for example, a player could add a red card to a previously played yellow thereby changing the suit led to orange. The player can then follow with an orange card from their hand.

This is an ingenious idea and it works well. Sadly the publisher sends these games out in horrible plastic blister packs - I'd have loved a nice box. This is a great change of pace for trick-taking fans.
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10. Board Game: Jaipur [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:106]
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The simplicity of the gameplay and the beautiful artwork make this a very accessible package. Again it's 2 player only. Despite the simplicity of the set-collection mechanics here, there are plenty of choices to make on each turn to keep things interesting and just enough randomness and hidden information to add some real tension to the game. This is a slick, clean design which is hard to fault.
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11. Board Game: Diamant [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:620]
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This ruleset is so simple, anyone can play. It is push-your-luck reduced to it's most basic form: repeatedly draw cards increasing your yield, but with an impending sense of doom because players know that there are hazard cards in the deck which will send you away with nothing. The game plays well with many different player counts, is very short in duration, and can be learned in no time at all.
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12. Board Game: Timeline: Inventions [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:856] [Average Rating:6.73 Unranked]
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There are many sets of this game and you are able to mix and match, or stick with a single set. The gameplay is really easy to grasp: place historical events in chronological order. The great thing about it is that, unlike traditional trivia games, you don't have to know the correct answer: having a rough idea is often enough to succeed. As such, it's very accessible and educational too. The tins are beautiful, and the game is very portable. It makes a great after-dinner game, and it's a fantastic conversation piece. Plays well with larger groups too.
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13. Board Game: Divinare [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:1483]
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This is one of the more substantial games on the list - it takes up a fair amount of table-space, and there are lots of tokens to deal with. But the game-play is straightforward, with a lovely deduction element to it. Previously hidden information is slowly filtered out to all the players throughout the game, and players must use this information to make/alter predictions about how many cards of each colour will be revealed. It's a logic puzzle really, but the components are fabulously atmospheric and help to lift it off the table. This is a high-quality product which deserves greater recognition.
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14. Board Game: Battle Line [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:180]
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A simple 2 player affair - this game involves creating basic poker-like hands to claim key locations. Once you have claimed five locations, or three directly in a row, you win. There isn't a great deal to it, but it has a similar luck-management feel to Lost Cities. "Do I take the simple, quick, but mediocre option available to me right now? Or do I hang on for the hypothetical brilliant option that may or may not arise in the future depending on my card draw?" It has enough decisions to make it entertaining, and it is easy to learn and teach with a short duration.
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15. Board Game: Ghost Blitz [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:886] [Average Rating:6.76 Unranked]
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The second speed game on the list, and this is perhaps the most difficult, deliciously exasperating of the bunch. Lovely wooden pieces sit on the table. A card is drawn showing several of those pieces in a variety of colours. Players must attempt to be the first to grab the piece which is not represented on the card, either by image or by colour. It is hard to explain in writing!! Variant rules crank up the difficulty/confusion level and you can even combine the game with the equally good Ghost Blitz 2 to make it even more difficult. The fun in the game comes from the groans of players who thought they'd made a successful grab only to be shown otherwise by the slowed players. You cannot escape making mistakes in this game - the premise is deliberately confusing - and that creates a lot of laughs.
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16. Board Game: Sushizock im Gockelwok [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:1690]
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Brilliant, straightforward Yahtzee-style dice-rolling - similar to Pickomino. The scoring mechanic makes this game, whereby players stack lovely chunky bakelite tiles, each worth a different number of positive or negative points. The key rule here is that you must have at least as many negative tiles as positive, so you can't afford to avoid the negative tiles and must compete to get the less damaging negative tiles and the highest valued positive tiles. Much good-natured stealing and back-and-forth ensues. It plays fast, it's simple to learn, and it looks great. Another fantastic "little" game from Zoch Verlag. This company's name on a box is a pretty sure sign that there is a quality product inside (see Ghost Blitz and Sushi Go!).
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17. Board Game: Yardmaster [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:2218]
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The stark graphics were a barrier for me when I first came to this game, but I very quickly overcame that and now I love the unique graphic design - it is extremely stylish. The gameplay is simple and effective - loads of difficult choices and tense card-draws. The duration is just right too. It looks like a dry, complicated game from a previous era, but the game is easy enough to jump right into and it is full of interaction, push-your-luck moments, and a lot of fun.
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18. Board Game: Chronicle [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:1350]
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Chronicle is a slightly convoluted, chaotic take on the trick-taking genre. Each card has a special power (as in the same designer's Love Letter) many of which disrupt the tricks which have previously been taken, so players can never bank on scoring the points which they currently have sitting in front of them. To add to the chaos, each round starts with slightly different rules (in a similar, but much simpler, manner to Stich-Meister). The artwork is brilliant, and the gameplay is fun. This is not for the serious trick-taking fans, and it takes a little more to learn than your average card-game, but it does offer up a wealth of great tactical choices on each turn. It's an odd game, but a fun experience.
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19. Board Game: Frank's Zoo [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:1210]
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This is a "climbing" game in the same genre as Haggis. The childish artwork could fool you into thinking this is a children's game, and indeed you could play the basic version with a family. But the advanced version introduces team-play, and the teams change each round so your one-time ally becomes your opponent in a subsequent round. This makes the game very engaging and hard to get your head around. It isn't clear to me yet how much strategy there is in the game and how much of it is determined by the cards you draw, but regardless of whether I'm really in control or not, I enjoy the whole process - particularly the interaction with other players necessitated by the advanced team version.
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20. Board Game: Würfel Bohnanza [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:1477]
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Don't be fooled into thinking that this game has anything to do with the card game Bohnanza! Despite using the same graphics, they play nothing alike. Wurfel Bohnanza is a Yahtzee style set-collection game, with the twist that different players are aiming for different sets and one player might inadvertently score sets for their opponents on their own turn, by rolling the appropriate results. This ensures all players are watching and involved while they wait for their turn to come round. It is best with smaller player counts because the down-time can be quite long (despite the involvement mentioned previously) but with 2-3 players this is a great dice game - it's always nice when a game lets other players do half your own work for you!
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21. Board Game: Absacker [Average Rating:5.52 Overall Rank:12469]
Adam Porter
Wales
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Absacker is the German word for a "night cap" - the last drink before bed. In this case, it is being used to describe the final game of an evening: something requiring minimal thought. And it does exactly what it says on the box - this game is the simplest, easiest card game to learn on the list. (The dice game Strike and the speed game Speed Cups rival it for simplicity). You have very little control, and hence the game is largely about going through the motions to determine a winner. There are very minor decisions to make, and they are largely obvious. Yet it definitely has a place in a game collection. My aim is to have a game to suit any player and any occasion, and I can get Absacker to the table time and again (opening game; closing game; pub table; work lunch; on a train) it is so easy to play. I have a lot of fun with it largely because I have no expectations of it offering me anything other than a pleasant way of passing a few minutes. For that, it is perfect.
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22. Board Game: Five Cucumbers [Average Rating:5.91 Overall Rank:4405]
Adam Porter
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This is a very simple trick-taking game based on a classic traditional game called Cucumber. Friese releases this as his own version of the classic game. There are few decisions to be made, but just enough to keep it entertaining, and the wooden gherkins included as scoring tokens are a lovely touch. This is a trick-taker where players want to lose the final trick of the round. Nothing else matters! It is easy to learn and may feel entirely random, but there is a subtle degree of control and players can manipulate their hand in such a way that they might just achieve their goal. It's not easy to overcome the luck-factor, but it's fun trying.
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23. Board Game: Habe fertig [Average Rating:5.92 Overall Rank:10373]
Adam Porter
Wales
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This is one of those initially unappealing games where the cards just feature numbers and colours (like 6 nimmt!). But the gameplay is clever. I can't bring myself to describe another weird ruleset here, but trust me - it's a good one: lots of strategic choices and a nice bidding mechanic.
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24. Board Game: No Thanks! [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:392]
Adam Porter
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Some of these small card-games seem to rise to the top of the heap and become well-known titles while others drift into obscurity. No Thanks! and For Sale are two such titles. In the case of No Thanks! I'm not sure why it's so successful. I think it's very good, but no more so than Habe Fertig and others of its ilk. The gameplay is easy to pick up, there are nice decisions to be made. Like Habe Fertig, the cards are just unappealing numbers and you'd think this would go against the game, but this game does seem to work for most people. I always enjoy it, and it's a worthy entry on the list. This one in particular has a nice degree of interaction and mean gameplay.
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25. Board Game: Speed Cups [Average Rating:6.20 Overall Rank:3281] [Average Rating:6.20 Unranked]
Adam Porter
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Another ludicrous speed game - this one is the most chaotic of the lot - grab your coloured cups and make the pattern shown on the card. Cue lots of frantic grabbing and groaning. The bell makes the game. Players all leap to be the one banging on the bell and lots of bruised hands (and egos) are the result. The game has a slightly mean lack of cards included (it's worth getting the expansion Speed Cups 2 to increase the deck-size and to increase the player count to 6) and the patterns featured are often ambiguous as to what is intended (the rulebook is very brief) but this is brilliant fun with an easy-going group, or with kids. It's a game which you can play without a rules explanation at all!!! You can pick up the rules by watching for approximately 10 seconds. You can't say that about many games.
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