A mystery box filled with miniatures to enhance your RPG campaigns. All official miniatures and for a bargain price!

Buy Miniatures Box »

Not sure what game to buy next? Buy a premium mystery box for two to four great games to add to your collection!

Buy Premium Box »
Subscribe Now »

If you’re only interested in receiving the newest games this is the box for you; guaranteeing only the latest games!

Buy New Releases Box »
Subscribe Now »

Looking for the best bang for your buck? Purchase a mega box to receive at least 4 great games. You won’t find value like this anywhere else!

Buy Mega Box »
Subscribe Now »

Buy 3, get 3% off - use code ZATU3·Buy 5, get 5% off - use code ZATU5

5 Games Where Designers Surprised Us

games where designers surprised us - flamecraft

When we think of certain designers, we often think of a certain genre, style or mechanism. Uwe Rosenberg loves tile laying, Matt Leacock loves a co-op, and Vital Lacerda loves making your brain melt. Every so often, designers decide to do something a little outside what we expect from them, showing off their versatility. Here are some of the bloggers and their favourite games to come from unexpected sources! Presenting... 5 games where designers surprised us!

Flamecraft By Manny VegaDan Street-Phillips

Sparkle Kitty was a 2019 hit which had a multitude of expansions inside a short time. These included new rules for team playing and also a version for the more adult of minds. The base game however, is simply an evolution of the classic card game, Uno. You are essentially following a trick of colours or suits in order to get rid of cards from a row in front of you. The first to remove all of their castle cards wins. It is a great game of female empowerment taking the notion a princess trapped in a tower and flipping it on its head. It is a ‘nice’ game oozing positivity which is perhaps the only thing that links it to designer Manny Vega’s newest, much more fulfilling game, Flamecraft.

This new release has exploded onto the scene with its super cute art by Sandara Tang and its surprisingly deep euro game mechanisms from Vega. In a town were artisan dragons work together with humans to run a series of shops, you are placing dragons to get a myriad of resources. These resources then help you to enchant said shops to make them more appealing for everyone (while getting you lots of reputation points).

Despite its cutesy exterior, and amazing production quality, there are two levels at which to play the game. One is an easy to access family game that can introduce new players to resource management and contract completion. It works well to keep the attention of younger children whilst also appealing to older players which is often a hard thing to achieve. However, for gamers it can offer a much deeper experience, with a variety of ways to score points, all of which can be carefully combo-ed for super powerful turns. From a designer of a series of very simple party games, Flamecraft was a huge surprise and I will certainly be firing it up on a regular basis.


Smitten By Jamey StegmaierHannah Blacknell

Stonemaier Games are famous for having high production quality games for between 1 and 5 (occasionally more) players. Things like Viticulture, the ever-famous Wingspan, the heavier Scythe etc. Their games are expandable and generally are balanced at all the player counts from solo to multiplayer. Yet, last month, Smitten was announced which is a micro game. A simple 18 card game that can be played in solo mode or as a two-player co-op. Well colour me intrigued and also slightly baffled at the u-turn on the norm. So I had to get a copy!

In this game there is no set turn order, you simply decide together if who wishes to play first. The active player will play a card into one of the two grids, and execute the action written at the bottom. This will mostly affect what the other player must do on their turn. Perhaps they have to play a card lower than a 5, or they have to place a card straight from the deck into the grids. This is what introduces an element of risk, some of these actions are heavy with danger of failure. Any failure to execute an action fully will wind up as a loss for you. You can’t communicate about your cards directly, but simply say I do not wish to play, or I can play but wish not to to give cryptic information to your teammate.

As you would expect from Jamey Stegmaier’s games, the artwork is great and the graphic design is well thought out and therefore pleasing to play. What surprised me about it though was the simplicity and speed in which you can play this game. We lost far more games than we won but we loved playing! Sign of a good kind of different game it seems!

Wildlands By Martin WallaceLee Underwood

As a designer, Martin Wallace is responsible for more than his fair share of influential Eurogames. Whether setting up intricate transport networks in Brass and Steam, or buying up Boroughs of Victorian London his best loved games are characterised by limited resources and decisions aimed at squeezing your opponents off the board and, sometimes, out of the game. They can feel brutal, but rarely unfair and many of his games are rightly held up as classics of the genre.

2018s Wildlands is a different beast altogether. Instead of economic engine building, Wildlands is a miniatures skirmish game featuring four very different (but well balanced) squads of mercenaries set in a Fantasy, Wild West. Frankly it looks like something Eric Lang would design. No networks. No loans. And definitely no trains.

The aim is simple- wipe out the opposition or collect their crystals scattered across the board. And that is it. Each squad has their own deck of cards which allow characters to do different actions on their turns depending on the symbols shown. The maps are tight, especially with four players, and combat simple so the game rattles along nicely. Wildlands is about managing your hand and knowing your squad’s weaknesses as well as chaining attacks to hurt your opponents when they are vulnerable. It’s fun but it isn’t dumb. Add in the ingenious Interrupt system, where some cards let you stop your opponent mid-turn to escape or counterattack and Wildlands shines as a pretty decent strategy game or a light beer and pretzels filler depending on your mood.

In fairness, Wallace has designed card driven skirmish games before, but never with quite the same emphasis on fun and accessibility and definitely not with such cute models. So until he designs a miniatures game called something like “Steam Train Battle Arena”, Wildlands remains a unique, but very welcome, outlier in his catalogue.

Dragon Keepers By Vital LacerdaFavouritefoe

Vital Lacerda. Just saying his name makes my brain sweat! When you cast your eye down his list of published games, the heft of them is intense. Not volumes. Not box sizes. No, no. I mean by the only scale that counts - the BoardGameGeek weighting!

His reputation for bringing the burn is well documented. On Mars (4.66/5!), Lisboa (4.58!), Vinhos (4.5!)… get my drift. And given that the crunchiest game in my collection is a comparable bantam weight 3.89 (Pipeline), I seriously have to prepare myself for a Lacerda session!

But. There was a time in 2019 when he designed a LIGHT card game together with his daughter suitable for kiddos age 6+. Wait. What? A sub 2.0 weight game suitable for children from Lacerda? I know. I almost fell over too!

Dragon Keepers (BGG weighting: 1.50!) is a card game where we are playing chiefs of tribes of, yep, dragon keepers! As the big boopahs, our task is to coordinate and defend attacks from the evil dragon hunter. Fortunately we have a little magic at our disposal (phew!).

The game can be played competitively or co-operatively. In competitive mode, you need at least 3 players, and you’ll be rolling dice in order to defend your fire breathing friends. Taking around 10-15 mins, the idea is to be first to successfully protect 3 dragons. If you do, you are the biggest, best boopah tribe leader of all. If a dragon takes 3 or more hits, the game ends and whoever has the most defences under their belts is declared the winner.

In co-operative mode 2-4 players will be adding training to their tasks! Because letting the dragons fend for themselves sounds like a much more sensible idea! With actions limited, however, everyone needs to coordinate their defend, cure, train, and attack options. Although this mode is slightly more complex, it’s still designed for age 9+ so nothing that the average young gamer can’t handle! And who knows, with this little box of Vital’s skills on my shelf, I even might be able to say I won a Lacerda game one day!

Noctiluca By Shem PhillipsThe Midland Meeple

They say good things come in threes. The Sugababes. Atomic Kitten. Hanson.

Add to that list the trilogies of Shem Phillips. Whether it’s the North Sea or West Kingdom trilogies, its easy to see where his talents lie: in making outstanding worker placement games. The South Tigris trilogy (I assume he’s working his way around the compass) has just seen its first instalment released, and the early hype indicates its amongst his best work. As good as those games may be though, it is another game by him which ranks amongst my favourites… and it’s not like the others.

Noctiluca is a game where you’re gathering dice and storing them in jars. The dice represent the noctiluca that you’re collecting for their healing powers. You play a pawn and take all the dice of one number from one of the two available straight paths. You’re trying to complete jars, whilst also completing a private objective of collecting certain coloured dice. As an added wrinkle, any additional dice you pick up that you can’t place get passed onto your rivals, so you need to keep an eye on what they’re collecting too. A game of Noctiluca often lasts around 30 minutes, and has a very solid solo variant too.

When I picked up my copy, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it looked on the table. A player board evoking the look of a shimmering lake, whilst the dice add a lot of colour. It’s a game that is rules light but strategy heavy, and very easy to pick up and play. It’s such a departure from any other Shem Phillips game I’m familiar with, but it holds its own in my collection. If you’re a fan of pretty dice collection games like Sagrada, then you probably should add Noctiluca to your list.

That concludes our list of 5 games where designers surprised us. Is there any we missed? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames.