Every year, there are tons of great games that make a tremendous splash in the board game community. Last year we saw huge hits like Scythe and Terraforming Mars. But not every fantastic game reaches that level of acclaim. In fact, there are some absolutely brilliant titles that somehow go overlooked by gamers. Here are three of the best board game hidden gems.
Ragnarok is near and the players vie for the favor of the gods while also committing to battles all around the world tree. In Asgard, the board is surrounded by 10 gods. Each round, the players secretly select which gods they implore and then make use of their powers. As temples to the gods are constructed, the gods themselves enter battle in the various world.
Asgard has some great things going for it. It’s worker placement where you have to make your selections in advance which forces hard choices. And while you can make a significant number of points by winning battles and building temples, it’s really about preparing for the final round, Ragnarok. As the gods enter the game, they bring their might directly to bear on the battles. If you’ve built a temple to them, then you reap the rewards of their success. When gods are directly opposing, so are the players.
The result is a deep and rewarding experience where you advance your position and prepare for the final battle. Every move you make has to be calculated. It needs to immediately benefit you – getting you points or taking things from opponents. Asgard has the depth and strategy of some of the finest board games out there. It’s a shame that it hasn’t garnered the same buzz as other titles.
At this point, you’d think any game by Stefan Feld would get a lot of buzz. But that’s not the case with Rialto. Here, the players are wealthy family members vying for control of canals and territory within the city. The city has six districts and each round one is randomly selected and the players compete.
Rialto uses an interesting card drafting mechanism. Several piles are dealt face up and the players select them in turn order. This way, you have a pretty good idea about the capabilities of each opponent. Then, players can play those cards for coins, points, territory, or whatever else you might need. And the one who plays the most cards of a given kind gets a bonus. Cards are a limited resource. If you use them, you definitely want to get the bonus.
It’s surprising how underrated Rialto is. The mechanisms are straightforward and the basic ideas can be grasped easily. Yet, the strategy here pits the players directly against each other. You have to read into what the other players have taken and what they are likely to do. Are they holding back cards for a big push later? How are their territories and canals linking up? The direct competition in a rules light atmosphere is the hallmark of a great game. And it’s a pity that Rialto hasn’t received the same attention as some of his other designs.
In Confucius, the players are influential families vying for the best spots in the Chinese bureaucracy. Players not only try to place family members in the various bureaus, but will also conquer foreign lands, sail across the sea, and give gifts to one another.
Gifts? Yes, that’s a critical part of the game. You see, there are a ton of ways that one player can harm another in Confucius. But if you give them a gift, they are (mostly) obligated to avoid hurting you. In some ways, it even keeps them back. They can’t get more family members in a bureaucracy than you, for example. In this way, strange and often unwanted alliances are created through the giving of gifts.
The result is a game where planning is anything but simple. You have a strong mission, but your options can be curtailed if another player gives you a gift. And you can do the same to your rivals. The strategy isn’t a straightforward path from A to B. Instead, it’s a meandering road that requires aggressive alliances and risky ventures. Confucius is almost unique in the way you can force other players into helping you and it deserves to get a lot more attention than it has.
Do you play any hidden gems that haven’t gotten the buzz they deserve? Tell us about it in the comments.
Image Credits: What’s Your Game, Tasty Minstrel Games, and Surprised Stare Games
Featured Image Credit: What’s Your Game