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Top 10 Small Box Big Game

Sometimes you can't judge a book by its cover, or a board game by its box. What defines a small or a big game? I've tried to include games that expand out of the box at a seemingly exponential rate, and also games that despite their small size get played over and over and over.

So if you are constantly being told size matters, here's 10 games to help prove them wrong...

10) Pocket Mars - Perhaps guilty of jumping on the recent band wagon to the red planet, Pocket Mars is an intriguing little game. You are transporting workers, who you hope to make VIPs, to various buildings which triggers building specific powers. As in Board & Dice's previous clever card game, Multiuniversium, cards are multi-use and can either be played from your hand, or installed face down to the table for more powerful actions, but it's in danger of being stolen and used by an opponent. And that's just the surface.

9) Vault Wars - Vault Wars is one of my hidden gem games. An out and out auction game set in a fantasy version of TV show Storage Wars. Players will bid on different vaults where they know some information about the contents but not all of it, except the owner of the vault who can play some mind games depending on what they want to do with those contents. Perhaps guilty of some repetition but when it nails the core mechanic so well I rarely mind.

8) Tiny Epic Games (Particularly Tiny Epic Galaxies and Tiny Epic Quest) - The Tiny Epic series is a marmite among gamers, the determination to squash so much into a small box often results in a certain amount of fiddliness, and I can't help but wonder what a Big Epic Game might be like. Nevertheless there is no doubting the scope and gameplay that is packed in these tiny boxes.

7) Jaipur - I resisted Jaipur for a long time, thinking it surely couldn't be as good as everyone says? Then the app came out and soon after I had a physical copy in my hands. In Jaipur, you and one other player will trade goods trying to get the most valuable to sell, but you get great bonuses for being first to sell, and sell a large group of the same item at once. Add into this camel management - seriously an important part of the game - and you have a winner that sees a lot of table time.

6) Cockroach Poker/Cockroach Poker Royal - Cockroach poker is genius in it's simplicity. Lies and bluffs are key here, and there is no winner, just one very sad loser. Each player will be dealt a number of cards that feature one of seven creatures (in the Royal version), Rat, Bat, Stinkbug, Spider, Fly, Scorpion, and Toad. On your turn you will pass a card face down to another player and tell everyone what that card is. Except you don't have to tell the truth.

The other player can call you out on a lie or truth, and whoever is wrong has the card placed face up in front of them, four of the same creature and you lose. If that player is not the last player to be passed that card they have another option, pick up the card look at it and pass it on, face down, to someone else and agree with the original claim or change it. This is genius! You suddenly become part of the conspiracy! Easy, fun and deceptive - a great portable game.

Cockroach Royal - Top 10 Small Box Big Game
Cockroach Royal - Top 10 Small Box Big Game

5) Zany Penguins - A quasi card draft, tableau and hand management game with a clever scoring system that makes this game bigger than it has any right to be. There are five different colour of penguin cards, if you have the highest value of one colour in your tableau you will score all remaining cards of that colour in your hand. If you don't have the highest value in the tableau you only score the lowest value card of that colour in your hand. Got it? No? Well trust me it works.

Each round your hand grows and you will pass one card each to the player on your left and right, receiving a total of two cards in return. You add these to your hand and then play one face down to your tableau, some having powers that activate when revealed. However there are some real decisions here as you can end up winning a colour in your tableau but not getting as many points from it as other players who managed their hand and tableaus better!

4) Coal Baron: The Card Game - Now, I might be pushing the limits of what can be considered a small box game here, but it is mainly cards in the box! This is a worker placement game with cards, and it works soooo well. Worker cards are numbered and to use a worker space you must play a total of one higher in worker value. So if no-one has taken a space you must play a '1' worker, the next worker or workers to be placed on that space must equal '2'. This makes '1' workers incredible powerful as you need them to start actions, but also they are super useful at making higher numbers to take the popular actions.

So Coal Baron becomes a worker placement game that is more about good worker management than blocking your opponents. In the game you are attempting to fulfil orders of coal to score points. To do so you gather trains, carriages and coal in the right company colours before shipping them out. Fair warning, this is the 'heaviest' game on this list by some margin, but I have found it to be a hugely satisfying game to play.

3) Tiefe Taschen - Tiefe Taschen (Deep Pockets) is my surprise hit of the year so far. Players will take turns as the president. The president draws the same amount of money cards as there are players and then openly divides them between players, only they don't have to do it fairly. In fact they could give all the money to themselves. Everyone then secretly plays one of five cards, pass the distribution, fail it, take money from the pot, blackmail, avert blackmail.

If the distribution isn't passed that president is sacked and out for the round. There are other subtleties (full review soon!) including bribes, but the bottom line is this is the most I have laughed around a games table for a long long time. There are so many stand out memories including the time I gave most of the money to myself and then bribed and blackmailed my way to success.

2) Oink Games (Insider, Deep Sea Adventure, A Fake Artist in New York) - Oink Games constantly surprise me with the content and gameplay contained in those small boxes. Yes there are some duffers, but the three mentioned above have seen more play time individually than most other games in my collection. Whether it's the bravado driven diving tomfoolery of Deep Sea Adventure, or the interesting twists on social deduction played in a more inclusive way in the Insider, or the art-based take on the Spyfall mechanics in a Fake Artist- there is plenty of good fun to be had.

In the past the price of these games has always been a tad too high but Oink are starting to work with UK distributors and you can find many of their popular titles for a lot less now.

1) The Cousins' War - Without doubt this is the best size to gameplay game on the list. Opening the box you find a small amount of cubes, a piddling 17 cards, some rubbish dice and a small folded board depicting England split into three territories.

Top 10 Small Box Big Game - The Cousin's War

What transpires is up to five rounds of clever card play, strategic use of the French, dice rolling and bluffery, until one player has control of England. How 17 cards translates into such a deep game confounds me to this day. The cards are multi-use and timing is hugely important and the game is tense throughout. Highly recommended.

Well there it is! There will be some I have ignored, missed, forgotten, not played, and I may just be play wrong... in your opinion. So let us know in the comments or on social media what your additions would be!