Some games hog all the limelight, but theres loads of games out there. Our bloggers highlight some of the games they think are most underrated!
Carl Yaxley - Riverboat
When the idea of this article was being discussed, Riverboat was the game that immediately came to mind.
As a 2017 release, the game is still (at the time of writing) relatively new. It was published by an established company, widely known for bringing us games like Agricola, Caverna, Le Harve, and Patchwork. It was created by a well known board game designer, Michael Kiesling. His mind has brought us over seventy games, including Vikings, Tikal, Torres, and Coal Baron. All factors that I would have expected to propel Riverboat to the forefront of the gaming community's consciousness.
For all of that, however, Riverboat appears to have largely sailed by unnoticed. Perhaps in part to the popularity of two other games designed by Mr Kiesling, and also released in 2017: Azul, and Heaven & Ale. Or perhaps due to its more traditional marketing and release. Whatever the reason, I feel that Riverboat is lacking the attention it deserves.
Riverboat is a mid-weight, euro style game employing elements of card drafting, action drafting, set collection, worker placement, and tile placement. It sits two - four players and will play in approximately 90 minutes.
Thematically, players are 19th century farmers working land along the banks of the Mississippi River. The game is played over four rounds, with each round made up of five phases. During a round, players will work the fields, organise and harvest crops, and finally ship them to New Orleans.
I find the gameplay to be intuitive and easy to learn, yet rich enough to provide an interesting strategic challenge. It also works really well as a two player game, which is a plus point in my opinion. Riverboat is a really well thought out game, with high replayability. I really rate it - unsurprisingly, given that I chose it for this article.
William Moffat - Sentient
There are a lot of underrated board games out there – but ratings are very subjective and someone might deem a certain game to be underrated, where someone else may say the same game is awful. Indeed, a popular game may be viewed as underrated when compared to more successful games.
When I look at my collection, Sentient stands out as a game I feel is perhaps the most underrated – designed by J. Alex Kevern and released in 2017 by Renegade Game Studios, this 2-4 player game is set in a practically utopian near future where enormous corporations control the production of robots used by society for transportation, industry, information, service and military.
The game charmingly weaves elements of card drafting, set collection, area control and mathematics(!) with a wee pinch of dice rolling and manipulation – it always amuses me that each player has five gorgeous custom dice which are only rolled three times in the entire game! It is a puzzly game where you're trying to manage your set of robots and mitigate the dice while competing with your opponents to gain control over investors who can provide you with end-of-game bonuses.
I think the main reason this game went under the radar is its pricetag. Size/component/complexity-wise puts this game in the early-£30s, but the reality is the game retails in the early-to-mid-£40s. Why is this? At the time I asked a contact of mine who worked for Renegade and she said the game was given to a novice project manager who made some rookie mistakes which affected the cost of production, and thus the game had to be priced higher to cover those costs.
What I would say to people is not to be put off by the pricetag – this game gets more plays than other games I have spent less money on, so on average it is working out cheaper per play!
Tom Harrod - Ulm
Many Euros provide a sensation of you being akin to an underdog boxer. Your back’s against the ropes. You’re being battered, and you know it. And yet, you love the game because of it. Perhaps it’s because Euros are an efficiency challenge. Easy is not satisfying. Easy does not invoke the urge to “Let’s play that again – right now!” Easy is forgettable.
Designers such as Stefan Feld and Uwe Rosenberg hog the limelight, to an extent, with Euros. A lot of what I’ve described above features in their games, such as Castles of Burgundy, and Caverna. With the board game market ever-growing, it’s becoming harder for games to stand out. Many hidden gems slip under the radar. My underrated game suggestion, if you like Stefan Feld, is Ulm by HUCH! & friends.
Designed by Günter Burkhardt, Ulm sees players gaining influence in the German city. It features a wonderful mechanism in the form of the market square, which is a 3x3 grid. It’s filled with nine tiles, which are one of five different actions. On your turn you draw a tile from a bag, and then have to push this tile into the grid. Thus, you push one tile out. Check the row you’ve activated: you then get to do the three actions on the three tiles in that row.
Will you try to sail down the river Danube? Will you try to collect cards? Will you try to place a load of seals in city districts? (Hint: you’ll want to do all three.) The actions dovetail in delightful ways; you’ll need to do A to do B to do C, and vice versa.
And, of course, that market square is a constant merry-go-round. It’s always changing, and whatever way you manipulate the grid, it has a direct impact on the next player. Michael Menzel’s art screams medieval Euro goodness. Components-wise, it even comes with a cool 3D model of the Ulmer Münster.
Ulm is a big hit in my gaming group. It’s a shame it’s not better known. But in fairness, Stefan Feld’s CV is something of an intimidating cathedral in itself, casting shadows over all the other smaller churches in town.
Want to read more about Ulm? Click here to read my review and critique of Ulm in greater detail!
Thom Newton - Founders of Gloomhaven
Life is hard when you are living in the shadow of a legend. With Gloomhaven currently sitting proud on top of the Boardgamegeek as the top-rated game of all time and the hugely anticipated direct sequel Frosthaven currently smashing its funding goals on kickstarter spare a thought for the euro city building offshoot Founders of Gloomhaven. It was never going to be as big, epic or loved as its big brother but Founders of Gloomhaven is an under appreciated gem. It is set long before the events of Gloomhaven at the time of the founding of the titular city. Players will take on the roles of one of the races found in the city, each with unique access to certain resources.
Your goal is to be the player that has had gathered the most influence during the construction of the city. At the start of the game each player has an identical hand of cards but over the course of the game you can buy more powerful versions of these cards to add to your hand. It’s pretty much the same thing as you do in the excellent Concodia. On your turn you’ll be playing one of these cards from your hand. When you do each player has the option to also do a weaker version of that action. Again, this mechanic has been seen in loads of games from Puerto Rico to the mighty Twilight Imperium. While playing cards you’ll be bringing in resources and using them to build more advanced buildings. There is a resource tree that shows how these resources are needed to build the tier two and three buildings. All of these resources are then used to build the unique buildings, many of them found in Gloomhaven itself.
What is cool is that when you use a tier 3 resource, some points trickle down to the tier two resources that supply it and so on to tier one. This is only scratching the surface of the game, there is some basic worker placement in there as well as some risk reward on when to spend your influence to try and push for the unique building that would need most resources that you provide. It’s a complex game and it is by no means an essential play if you own Gloomhaven, they are very different experiences.
There is a hint of the excesses of Gloomhaven with achievements and even cards that can affect your playthrough of Gloomhaven. But, if you like games about managing production chains and passive aggressive city building it is definitely worth a look. Founders of Gloomhaven doesn’t really do anything new but it does combine some great mechanics to deliver a unique city building experience. If you’re excited about building the city of Frosthaven in the upcoming game, perhaps you should try building Gloomhaven in the meantime.
Rob Wright - Temp Worker Assassins
For a while, I was thinking of extolling the virtues of Innovation again, an odd little civilisation style card drafter with some massively over-powered and cruel effects and the frequent result of having victory snatched from under your nose by a card’s effect that you had forgotten about-trust me, it’s a great little game. I’m not going to do that, though (I just did, sorta) – I’m going to put another funny little game front and centre – Temp Worker Assassins.
The schtuck behind TWA is that assassins (that’s you) have been sent into the Castle of Bureaucracy to ‘process’ (terminate) as many fantasy office employees as possible (Accounting Vampires, Marketing Harpies, that sort of thing) before the end of the week. Unfortunately, your arsenal of weapons does not make it through security, so you will have to improvise using the contents of the stationary cupboard – staplers, rules, hole-punches… good luck!
The way the game plays is a combination of worker placement and deck building – you send out your meeples to the various departments, all amusingly named (Main Reception of Doom, Sadistic Statistics Dept. and so forth) or the ability of the day, to gain cards from the central pool of stationary, draw, discard and banish cards from your hand and deck, beef up your attacks or, if you’re feeling you have enough cards in your hand, assassinate a worker!
When you do this, you have to play the cards in your hand, which can lead to spectacular draw-and-attack bonus results or fall completely flat. No matter; regardless of what happens, your meeple gets sent to Security, but will be released for the next day… I think he’s learned his lesson and won’t be trying to kill the employees again, don’t you? The departments you place for each game are fully customisable, so once you are used to the standard set up, you can choose your own departments or pick them at random.
Having only 5 days/rounds makes it pretty fast to play and with plenty of departments to mix and match, there’s plenty of replayability. Sure, it might look a bit rudimentary, but it’s full of humour, has that added push-your-luck element and a zombie typing pool. Lots of fun and a really different deck builder.
Well there you have it! What are you most underrated games? Let us know on social media!