Hello reader. This countdown is for the rogues out there - the players who like a game that encourages a little simulated skulduggery and conflict. All in the name of fun of course! I've selected five light-hearted games that put shady characters and unscrupulous behaviour at the forefront.
From bandits on trains, to scoundrels in space, with a detour through fantastical madness. The following are perfect for the family who are far too civilised to behave like rascals in real life.
Player Count: 2 - 6 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2014
Shoot'n and loot'n is the aim of the game in Colt Express. Players are bandits aboard The Union Pacific Express as it pulls out of Folsom, New Mexico on 11th July 1899. Over five rounds you will clamber through and over carriages, robbing passengers (and each other!), shooting rivals, and dodging the Marshall. If you're lucky you'll get your hands on the lockbox held at the front of the train - which holds The Nice Valley Coal Company's weekly payroll. The bandit with the most loot after the last round is victorious.
Players each begin with a deck of action cards. When played, these cards enable players to move, shoot, punch, steal, or move the Marshall. At the start of a round, players draw five cards into their hand and reveal a round card. This determines how many cards each player will use for the round. The round card may also have an effect that influences play.
Players then take turns placing a card onto a common stack until they have placed the required number of cards. The active player takes the stack, flips it, and then reveals cards one by one, carrying out the action each time. Revealing the last card ends the round, players discard any used cards and draw a new hand.
Colt Express is chaotic, thematic, and fun. The 3D train helps immerse you into the game. Watching players reactions as they move around the train and failing, or succeeding is always enjoyable. This is a great game to start a gaming session, or to break the ice with a new group.
Player Count: 2 - 5 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2009
Small World is a game that actively encourages poor neighbourly relations. The world is overcrowded, forceful expansion is the only way forward. Players each chose a fantasy Race and Special Power combination, then use them to conquer regions, and amass victory coins. After eight, nine, or ten rounds (depending on player count), the game ends. The player with the most victory coins wins.
The Race and Special Power combination you choose will influence what flavour your aggressive conquest will take. There are 14 Races and 20 Special Powers, each with a unique effect or ability. At the start of each game, Races and Powers are randomly shuffled. Five of each are revealed and paired, giving players a 'market' to choose from. Each time one is taken, a new combination is revealed and added to the market.
Gameplay is as no nonsense as you might expect. On a turn, conquer a region by placing the required number of Race tokens. Remove other Race tokens from the conquered region. The defending playing loses one token permanently, and the rest return to their supply. As the active player, you can attack multiple times on a turn. Once your appetite for conquest has been sated, end your turn and score victory points based on the regions you control. Eventually your Race will be over extended. At this point you can put it into decline, choose another race, and continue to rampage.
Small World is a light, straightforward game that plays quickly. It's an ideal family game, or gateway game for new gamers.
Player Count: 2 - 4 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2012
Smash Up is marketed as a shufflebuilding game of awesomeness, which is pretty accurate. It's the ultimate pop culture/fantasy mash-up in game form. Like Small World, Smash Up is a game of conquest. Thematically, you control two factions bent on world domination. The aim of the game is to score points by destroying enemy bases - The first player to score fifteen (or more), wins. Players choose two factions to combine, each represented by a unique deck of twenty cards, made up of minions and actions. Each Faction has distinct theme and style of play, which makes for good replay value.
Setup is as simple as shuffling faction decks together and laying out bases equal to the number of players, plus one. Gameplay is almost as straightforward. On a game turn, the active player can play one minion and one action. When an action is played, it resolves immediately and is discarded. Minions are played to a base and remain until removed by an action, or the base is destroyed.
Minions each have a power value. A base explodes when the combined power of all minions on a base meets, or exceeds the bases breakpoint. At this point, players score victory points based on their combined minion power. Usually, the player with the highest value scores the most points, but not always! The game ends immediately when a player scores fifteen or more points.
I enjoy Smash Up. It's fun combining different factions and working out what works particularly well together. Pulling off a combo that enables you to trump an opponent and take points from a base is highly satisfying.
Player Count: 3 - 5 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2002
Now to a game of swashbuckling and daring on the high seas! In Pirate's Cove your objective is to become the most feared and famed Pirate to sail the seas. To earn fame, you will need to fight, find treasure and bury it.
The game is played over twelve rounds. Each round, players simultaneously (and secretly) choose a destination to sail towards. There are five outer islands a player can chose - each will have a face up treasure card offering a combination of Fame, Gold, Treasure, and Tavern (bonus) cards. Additionally, each island will allow the player to upgrade one section of their ship or acquire more Tavern cards. Players can also opt to travel to Treasure Island to bury any Treasure and Gold.
The action unfolds when players reveal their destinations. If two or more players sail to the same outer island, they must immediately battle. Any player involved in combat can target any other player present. The winner will drop anchor and claim the island’s reward. The loser(s) sail to Pirate's Cove to repair. Any player who is alone at an outer island can immediately claim the reward and look smugly on everyone else’s battles.
Pirate's Cove can be good fun, especially when people are drinking rum and really getting into the spirit of the game. However, should luck desert you, it is possible you may have a hard time in combat. Successive defeats will leave you limping away from conflicts more often than not. If that happens, target Tavern cards whilst your opponents fight over the treasure. You may draw up something that can help turn the tide in your favour!
Star Wars Outer Rim
Player Count: 1 - 4 | Complexity: Medium | Released: 2019
Last up is a game that delivers adventure in a galaxy, far, far away. You play the part of a smuggler or bounty hunter, operating in the semi-lawless regions at the edge of the galaxy. The aim is to generate fame; the first player to gain ten fame points wins. Players can acquire fame in numerous ways: completing jobs, collecting bounties, completing character and ship goals, and in some combat situations.
Outer Rim is a sandbox game. By that I mean you have a choice in how to do things and what order to do them in. Feel like lugging cargo between planets? You can. And when you want to mix it up, you can pick up a bounty or pursue another objective.
Gameplay isn't too complex, but there are quite a few concepts and rules to familiarise yourself with. Fortunately, you can play Outer Rim in a solo mode, and I recommend this to learn the game. Put simply, players take turns until one achieves ten (or more) fame. Three phases make up a game: Planning, Action, and Encounter. In the Planning phase you can move, recover damage, or gain credits. In the Action phase, you take any desired actions, such as buying cards from the market or delivering cargo/bounties. To resolve the Encounter phase, you will draw an encounter card and resolve it.
Outer Rim feels thematic, so when you're playing you can easily immerse yourself in it. This is one Star Wars fans will enjoy. But you don't need to be a fan to appreciate this game. If you like pick up and deliver, trading, or variable player power mechanics, you may still enjoy this.