Although small box games typically offer lighter gaming fare, today’s titles can provide a deep, satisfying main dish of tabletop action. From Hisashi Hayashi’s excellent fit-in-your-pocket games to Scott Almes’ Tiny Epic series, small box games prove that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Here are five games that make up for their lack of size with intriguing gameplay. You can plan an entire game night around these and, best of all, you won’t strain your back muscles lugging these lightweight boxes around (I’m looking at you, Gloomhaven).
Sail to India
From the creator of Rolling America, Yokohama, and many more comes this underappreciated worker-placement, resource-management game. In Hisashi Hayashi’s Sail to India, you’ll explore the new world hoping to create a prosperous trading route. Along the way you’ll improve your technologies, set up strongholds, markets, and churches, and acquire wealth.
All of this is done via the game’s cubes, which are used as workers as well as scorekeepers. It’s an inspired game design choice and provides interesting decisions as the game progresses: you can only have so many resources since your cubes must be used to track your score, and you can’t just send out a bunch of cubes as ships or else you won’t be able to store any of that newly acquired wealth. Even with three actions per turn, you’ll find yourself trying to figure out how to track your resources, technologies, and, ultimately, victory points with your limited supply.
If your group isn’t enamored with word games, surprise them with Paperback, a Scrabble-meets-Dominion hybrid that combines word building with deck building. Those familiar with Dominion will feel right at home, even those whose vocabulary would put them at a disadvantage against seasoned Scrabble players. There’s no need to memorize those dreaded two-letter word lists to stay competitive in Paperback.
Instead, the game is about playing your cards just right more than it is figuring out whether or not kwyjibo is a word. Sure, it’s nice to play “Qi” on your unsuspecting opponents, but you’ll also need to manage your deck to ensure you earn enough money with each word to buy the end-game “novels” (Dominion players, think estates, duchies, and provinces).
Jaipur is one of my favorite two-player games, thanks to its elegant turns and unique market mechanism. In this card game set in an Indian marketplace, you and your opponent purchase goods such as spices, gems, and other items through clever card play and set collection.
Each turn is an exercise in simplicity: you may take a card from the face-up market or sell goods on those cards. Depending on how fast you were able to sell goods, you may earn a token that’s worth bonus points at the end of the round. The more valuable goods such as diamonds, gold, and silver have a minimum requirement for selling, so it’s not a simple race for the biggest prizes.
The game is played over three rounds, with bonuses available after each round. I enjoy the subtleties in manipulating the market, trying to buy low and sell high, and the game remains satisfying after multiple plays.
Deep Sea Adventure
This is the smallest game on this list and it’s the easiest to learn, but you’ll be surprised at how much Deep Sea Adventure has to offer. You and your buddies are divers trying to grab the most valuable treasures. Roll dice and move the corresponding spaces; the deeper you go, the more valuable the treasure, but there’s this little thing called oxygen that’s running out while you’re exploring the ocean depths. You’re all sharing the same air supply so you’ll have to hurry back to the surface after your underwater plundering. Make it back to the ship and you’ll score points; run out of air and your treasures tumble deeper into the ocean for the next round of play.
I love the minimalist nature of Oink Games’s titles and this is a prime example of their aesthetic; the components and rules are simple, but the gameplay exceeds your expectations. Rolling those dice to try to get back to the ship in time is a tension-filled as you try not to drown. And the laughter that ensues when you do is always uproarious.
Tiny Epic Galaxies
As seen on TableTop, Tiny Epic Galaxies is a dice allocation and area control game where you’ll colonize planets on the way to ruling the galaxy. Each turn you roll dice to perform actions: gain energy or culture, land ships on a planet to perform a special action, orbit ships to colonize a planet via an economic or diplomatic track, or upgrade their existing empire, which will give them more dice to roll as well as additional victory points.
Thankfully, a bad roll of the dice can be mitigated in several ways: players get a free re-roll of any of the dice, they can convert two dice into one action they choose, or they may spend one of their energy points to re-roll any remaining dice. The first player to 21 victory points triggers the end game. Secret missions handed out at the start of the game are scored sometimes propelling a player to a come-from-behind win.
My favorite part of TEG? The follow action, since it keeps players engaged throughout the game and limits the amount of downtime. Non-active players can spend one of their culture points to follow the action of the active player. So, if my buddy rolled something I needed, I could benefit from it as long as I had the resource (culture) to pay. Bonus: the solo game is quite good and manages to capture the feel of a multi-player game, with various difficulty levels to challenge you.
What are your favorite small box games? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credits: Ruel Gaviola
Featured Image Credit: Gamelyn Games
Ruel Gaviola is a writer and educator based in Southern California. He loves board games, books, cooking, traveling, date nights with his wife, and Star Wars. He reviews games and reports news for iSlaytheDragon.com and his name rhymes with Superman’s Kryptonian name. Follow him on Twitter.