It’s always good to have a speedy option up your sleeve: whether that’s as a quick filler between more weighty titles, a chance game at lunchtime, or an opportune moment to get family and friends playing something at the end of the evening. Here are some of our favourite fast paced board games.
Onitama – Kirsty
The first of our fast paced board games is Onitama, a 2 player abstract strategy game which has a similar feel to chess. Unlike chess, however, Onitama can be played in 15 minutes.
In Onitama, each player has five pieces (a Master and four pawns). Players start on opposing sides of the board. There are five movement cards in play in any game. Each player starts with two of these cards face up in front of them. The other card is placed between the players facing the starting player.
Turns are simple. Players choose one of their pieces to move, as set out on one of the movement cards in front of them. Each card has several options for where a piece can be moved, but players can only choose one of these. After the player has moved their piece, they pass the card they used on to the other player and add the spare card to their hand.
A player wins either when they capture the opponent’s Master or by getting their Master to the starting space of their opponent’s Master. You capture a piece by landing on them with one of your own pieces, much as in chess.
Onitama is very streamlined, as your moves are determined by the movement cards you have. Your options are limited at the start, as your pieces can only move forward. The movement options then start to grow in the middle of the game, before shrinking down again towards the game. This gives the game a nice flow. The limited number of moves means that players don’t get stuck for too long deciding what to do next. Games of Onitama are over very quickly as a result. You may even be able to reset your pieces, set out cards and have a re-match before 30 minutes are up!
Harbour – Tom Harrod
The next of our favourite fast paced board games is Harbour. Designer Scott Almes is well-known for his successful series of Tiny Epic… games. They’re small-box offerings that fit in a lot of gameplay, despite their size. While Almes’ Harbour isn’t part of that series, it could earn its own endearment of ‘Tiny Epic Le Havre’.
Harbour is a worker-placement resource-management game for 1-4 players. Witches, orcs, golems, mermaids and more frequent this whimsical port. Your aim is to construct four buildings from a public flop of cards. Buildings cost money. You earn money by collecting and trading fish, cattle, wood, and stone at the market. The market is a clever, dynamic, interactive mechanism. Timing is key; of course, you’ll want to sell your goods when the demand for them is high, as their selling price will be high too. But when anyone sells to the market, that resource’s value plummets, pushing the other goods up in value…
The trick, then, is figuring out how to earn resources. You do this by sending your worker to a vacant building card, and partaking in its exchange action. You have your own player mat, which tracks your quantity of each type of goods. You’ll flit back and forth between buildings, trading. Then, once you have enough goods and their selling value suits, you can flog them to buy a building card (worth points).
Once you have buildings of your own, other players can still visit them, but at a cost. They have to pay the building owner one of their resources! Harbour is like Le Havre’s younger sibling. You’re managing resources (but not upgrading them). You have one worker (but you never feed them!) You’re spending resources to buy building cards (worker placement spots). Another difference? Harbour lasts 30-45 minutes. It’s pace-driven; once someone buys their fourth card, the round ends. The player whose buildings are worth the most points wins!
Arboretum – Nathan
Our family enjoys strategy games that have a visual appeal, often favouring those with a real-world theme as opposed to sci fi or fantasy. Last year, we stumbled across Arboretum by Renegade Games and have not been disappointed. Do not let the theme put you off. Creating your own collection of trees sounds very gentle and hardly cutthroat. This card-based game for 2-4 players may only take 20 minutes, but it contains plenty of analysis and strategy.
The key is to create pathways of ascending numbers within your woodland. Only routes that start and finish with an identical tree species can have value. You may be tempted to fill a route with every one of that tree type. However, you only score points for trees whose cards you retain in your hand, and only if you have the largest aggregate total. Here is the conundrum. Do you play your trees from your hand to increase your route’s value, thereby weakening your hand and reducing the ability to score? If you’re feeling vindictive, you could hold onto high value trees of the species that the other players are trying to place. This will render their beautiful Arboretum pointless. It is the equivalent of watching them tend to a lovely woodland, only to issue a felling order for their prized specimens before they have chance to enjoy it.
The artwork is gorgeous. The cards have a premium feel. A 20 minute stroll in the forest might help you feel at one with nature, but in this Arboretum you will be constantly looking over your shoulder and listening out for any approaching chainsaws.
Santorini – John H
Next on our list of fast paced board games is Santorini, another excellent abstract game in which players take control of two classical builders on a 5 x 5 grid. To win, be the first to get one of your figures to the top of a three-story building. Each turn, you move a builder one space and then build one level on an adjacent space. Buildings can grow to up to four stories – the first three can be traversed and the final level is a roof piece, which blocks the use of that building. Builders can move up one level in their move but can drop as many levels as they choose.
So, getting to the top of three stories essentially involves building ‘steps’ and gradually ascending them, while your opponent tries to block you and achieve the same first. Sound simple? Well, the rules are, but the strategy is somewhat more sophisticated.
Once you are ready for a bit of variety, you can change the game by each drawing god powers at the outset, from a stack of 30 cards. These fundamentally alter the rules for each player and offer a different, asymmetric challenge.
A final word on design, which is gorgeous. Sure, the theme is pasted on, but it is done with such charm, building the famous blue and white Santorini dwellings, and the delightful cartoon sculptures and art of the builders and gods. Even the green board is mounted on a brown stand to give the impression of the island rising from the sea.
This is easy to teach and appeals to a wide audience. It’s beautiful to look at and delivers some good tactical crunch. It is chess-like but with a 15-minute play time. While best with two, there are options for 3 and 4 players too. A deified delight, it’s on our list of favourite fast paced board games for a reason – and soon to be followed by Santorini New York, so watch out for that too.
Fuse – Matt
Last but not least in our five favourite fast paced board games, it’s Fuse. When you are really short on time, how about a fast paced, cooperative dice rolling game, filled with tensions and tough choices, that can be played in just 10 minutes? Let me introduce you to Fuse, a 1-5 player real-time game from designer Kane Klenko and published by Renegade Games.
In Fuse, your aim is to defuse a number of bombs (depending on difficulty) detected aboard your ship before the 10 minute timer runs out and all the bombs explode. Each bomb is represented by a card detailing a certain number, order, colour or pattern of dice that must be placed on the card in order to successfully defuse it. A player will draw a number of dice from a bag and roll them. Then, each will take a die and place it on their card. Careful selection of the dice is essential, as any leftover dice are rolled again, with any that match being removed from the bomb card.
Fuse is fast, frantic and a ton of fun. It is a lightweight dice chucking game that offers tension and tough choices. Adding a timer into the mix adds the pressure that you don’t have time to think through every move available. You need to grab a die, place it and then roll some more. You do, however, need to be smart about which die you take and which dice you leave. Each of the bomb cards has different requirements to defuse them and some of them even offer a slight dexterity element to them. You may have to stack a set of five dice in a particular order and, if the stack falls over, then you have to start again.
Fuse is a game that we always reach for at the end of a game night and we often play a few games back to back. If you only have 10 minutes to spare, then my recommendation is always going to be Fuse.
Fast Paced Board Games for Your Next Game Night
If any of these fast paced board games have caught your eye, you can order them here at Zatu with next day delivery. Make sure to use one of our delightful discount codes when ordering multiple games. BOARD3 gets you 3% off 3 games while BOARD5 gets you (you guessed it!) 5% off 5 or more games.
If you liked this article, why not check out our favourite deck building games?