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5 Games To Play In Under 30 Minutes


Life often gets in the way of everything. We are working longer hours, traveling for longer and when we aren’t doing those things we are shattered. So sitting down to a one to two hour (sometimes more) long board game isn’t always on the cards. Despite being used to party games like Just One or Telestrations being light and quick, sometimes you crave something a little meatier. Well below are five short games that play in under 30 minutes but also offer a little more theme or a little more bite when it comes to what they offer. And what makes them even better is they are all small box games that are easy to pack for a trip just to kill time in a coffee shop when waiting for your train. First up is one of my favourites…


Over the last ten years there has been a huge growth in the iconic small box publisher, Oink Games. With modern classics like Deep Sea Adventure, Scout and A Fake Artist Goes to New York this Japanese company have created a really trustworthy brand and with all of their games (minus a couple of newer ones) all having the exact same, tiny box, they are extremely portable. One of my favourites is Start Ups. It takes the game mechanism of stock market manipulation and presents a very accessible and fun game with nothing but a series of tokens and a deck of cards. In the game there are six companies you can get stocks in, all with a cute animal theme. You might decide to get into ‘Octo Coffee’ or ‘Bow Wow Games’ or if you are feeling brave, even ‘Elephant Mars Travel’! On your turn you are simply taking a card and playing a card. You can play a card either into a shared open discard row whether it may be picked up later or in front of you declaring your ownership of that stock. If you then have the most of that particular stock you gain its monopoly token meaning you can no longer take those stocks from the shared discard row. This lovely mechanic means you have to time your declaration perfectly ready for point scoring where you only gain points if you have the monopoly of a stock AND other players have that stock as well. In that case they will pay you for every one of their matching stocks that they own. This game is a meaty little puzzle whilst also remaining easy to easy and light and breezy to play and never outstays it’s welcome. Just be warned, yes this game plays in under 30 minutes but you will want to play it again immediately after!

For Northwood - Seb Hawden

When I first heard about For Northwood I was skeptical. I even let the Kickstarter slide and kept my hard-earned cash for other games. Little did I know, I would miss out on one of the most fun single-player games I would eventually own. For Northwood is a single-player trick-taking game with the added bonus of a small campaign. Think about that for a second, a single-player trick-taking game, how would that even work? I can happily report that it functions superbly. At work, when my dinner-time board game cult is busy, I often have a quick round of this cute little gem. At the start of the game you create a row of randomly selected animals you will be trying to convince with your arguments. This just shakes out to playing hands of trick taking, with special powers being used to bend the rules of the game to your will. Each animal has a trump suit and each one has a number of tricks you must exactly get in order to win them over. In any given round you look at your hand and decide which of the animals to take on. How many trump cards do you have? How powerful is your hand? What powers do you have access to? All these questions will lead you to picking an animal to face. The you must carefully navigate through the hand, winning the exact number of tricks in order to win that animal over to your side, gaining the points and getting access to their special power in future hands. For Northwood is quick, juicy and very entertaining. The random powers and animals you use each time mix it up and the small campaign adds a few little wrinkles here and there. What more could you want from 30 minutes of gaming?

Akropolis - Steven Gibney

If you're looking to keep gameplay short, tile placement games offer plenty of options. A notable and relatively recent addition is Akropolis (2022), where players take on the role of architects in ancient Greece. Your mission is to strategically place tiles and expand your city so that yours is worth the most points at the end of the game. On your turn you can choose which tile to take from a communal store, some of which will cost you stone, the currency of the game. When choosing tiles to add to your city you have the option of building plazas, housing, temples, markets, gardens and barracks, but each of these tiles comes with rules that must be followed if you want to earn points from them. When placing tiles you also have the option of stacking vertically, doubling or tripling the points earned for that tile, but this comes with the risk of blocking yourself for future tile placements. The gameplay can take a while to get your head around, particularly the idea of stacking tiles and building vertically, but once you've played a game or two, the premise becomes clear. Likewise, depending on your math skills the endgame scoring can take some time. Overall however, quick decision-making and the need for strategic planning make Akropolis a delightful option anyone can enjoy in under 30 minutes.

Dragonwood - David Ireland

The quickest way I could describe Dragonwood to you is that Rummi or Rummikub comes alive in the fantasy realm, but you throw in a set of dice to gamble with as well. Sounds fun? Keep reading! You, as the players, are on a quest to capture as many creatures as possible within the enchanted forest. Each creature has a score attached to them and the player with the highest creature score at the end of the game (the game ending when the 2nd dragon is captured, or the players exhaust the adventure deck of cards for a 2nd time). There is a twist and a gamble though. Players gather adventure cards in their hand and have to gather cards of the same colour, number or essentially make a straight (1, 2, 3, 4, etc). This allows them to Stomp, Strike or Scream as a method of attacking and gathering a creature from the forest. The more cards you use of the same colour, number or in a straight, the more dice you roll and (in theory) the easier the creature is to capture. There is the opportunity instead of going for creatures, you might try and collect an enhancement, which should make capturing subsequent creatures easier. However, these do not come with a score attached so you risk sacrificing end of game points. This is a fast 2 to 4 player game that is highly engaging. All players have a serious interest in those dice rolls. The groans if a player makes a successful roll versus the cheers if they don’t quite roll high enough, you cannot beat it.

Spots - Northern Invasion Stu

I love big crunchy games, preferably with a demanding campaign mode or a narrative legacy feature. However, sometimes I have limited time or I need to accommodate those pesky, non-gaming friends/relatives. When I need to grab something quick and light to fill a short window, or if I want to throw something family friendly into my bag for holiday, the first thing I reach for is Spots. Spots is a basic dice placement game with simple push your luck mechanics that can be easily learned and which is way more fun than it has any right to be. The objective of Spots is to add six completed dogs to your pack. Each of the characterful canines sport a number of spots that you must cover with the dice that you roll during your turn. There are six commands that you can employ as an action, each of which allow you to roll a given number of dice or perform other tricks such as earning treats to spend on re-rolls. When you roll your dice, those that match the spaces on the incomplete dogs in your pack can be assigned to them. Those dice that don’t match your pups are ‘buried’ in your yard. If your buried dice have a total greater than seven you bust and all of your placed dice are returned to the common pool. Rather than issue a command, players can use their turn to add those hounds that are completed to their pack. Alternatively, they can risk everything by making risky plays in order to fill the remaining spots on their dogs with a lucky roll, thereby automatically claiming all of their pooches and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. The game includes stacks of different commands beyond the six required for a single game to allow players to enjoy a variety of scenarios with their own distinct feel. There’s a veritable bucketful of spotty dice to toss around and plenty of adorable dogs for you to work with. The artwork in Spots is simple but attractive and its strong black & white theme is certainly family friendly. Whilst Spots won’t tax your mind or weave a complex story that you will remember for years, the game is great fun and can be enjoyed quickly by both pups and seniors alike.

Zuuli - Emma Hunt

Zuuli is a set collecting card game where you are building your own zoo! There are 3 different types of cards. Enclosure cards have a number in a square which tells you the amount of space that enclosure has. In the top right corner of enclosure round there is your scoring value. The animal cards have a number in a square which tells you how much space that animal needs. In the top right corner, it has a teeth or heart symbol. This tells you whether the animal is fierce or friendly. Some animal cards have special abilities. Upgrade cards help to make your enclosures better and may help in end round scoring. The amount of cards you are dealt depends how many players there are. You will look at your hand, decide which card you want, place it in front of you and pass your hand on to the player to your left. You continue with this process until no one has any cards left. Then, you start building your zoos! You place animals into enclosures and add any upgrades. If you can’t add any animals to any enclosures, this results in minus points. You score the first year and repeat the following for years 2 and 3. During years 2 and 3, you can switch your animal cards around but you cannot move your upgrades. After the third round, total up your points and the person with the highest score wins!

This is a good game to introduce to people who aren’t avid players of games. It’s easy to learn. It involves maths skills and the animal cards are adorable! As well as this, I like the fact that it’s strategic. You’ve gotta think about your placement of animals and what fits where! The set collection element is easy to grasp and it’s super fun!

So there you are, five fantastic games to play in under 30 minutes. Fast and easy to learn but all offering a little more depth then your average ‘quick to play’ game. All I can do is advise that you pick one up, slip it in your bag, and next time you are at a coffee shop or pub escaping the British rain, whip it out and be the saviour from short term boredom!